Recent Computer Science Double Major Receives Competitive Homeland Security Fellowship

August 26, 2003

New Scholarship Proves Extremely Competitive

Recent Georgia Tech graduate V. Blair Dowling, who is passionate about mathematics and is a fierce competitor in Ultimate Frisbee, will soon become part of a much larger team. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has selected her to receive one of 100 fellowships in the new Homeland Security Scholars and Fellows Program. More than 2,500 students nationwide applied for the 100 openings available to undergraduate and graduate students studying a variety of disciplines related to scientific and technological innovations that can be applied to the DHS mission. Dowling graduated in May with degrees in applied mathematics and computer science and a minor in economics.  Dowling will use the three-year graduate fellowship, which includes a stipend and full tuition, to pursue her doctoral degree in mathematics at Princeton University. Her long-term goal is to be a professor of mathematics.

I fell in love with math at a very early age,” said Dowling. “Initially my only goal was to make a contribution to theoretical mathematics – a beautiful result on a pedestal. Over the last four years, my goal has expanded to include the innovation of new applications of mathematics to societal problems – such as the HIV project I’m working on now. I’m looking forward to learning the foundations of mathematics at Princeton, and hope to be able to then teach them to the next generation.”

Dowling feels this fellowship will give her the freedom to concentrate on her studies.  In April when she received an e-mail from one of her math professors suggesting she apply for the fellowship, she had already been offered a teaching fellowship at Princeton, which covered all expenses for four years. Dowling felt the Homeland Security Fellowship provided more flexibility.  As part of the fellowship, Dowling will be required to complete an internship with DHS the summer after her first year.

Dowling, an outstanding student who graduated from Tech with a perfect 4.0 GPA, has received many honors. She was a finalist for the highly prestigious Rhodes Scholarship, which included an intensive application and interview process that she found very thought provoking.  She also received the Phi Kappa Phi Scholarship Cup, awarded each year to the graduating senior with the most outstanding scholastic record in the class.

As an undergraduate, she pursued several research projects. She worked on a joint Georgia Tech - Emory University research project with Dr. Dana Randall, associate professor in the College of Computing and adjunct in the School of Mathematics at Georgia Tech and Dr. Guido Silvestri, assistant professor of medicine at the Emory Vaccine Research Center & Yerkes National Primate Research Center.  The project’s goal is to develop a mathematical model of HIV infection in vivo, along with computer software allowing biologists, to visualize the progression of the disease. For this project, she won first place in the annual UROC (Undergraduate Research Opportunities in Computing) competition. Dowling is involved in ongoing research with the project, and anticipates publication of their work sometime in the next year. Another project was a National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates focusing on elliptic curves and quadratic residue tournaments.

Blair completely embodies the type of student that made me want to become an academic,” said Randall.  “She demonstrated such extreme professionalism and scientific integrity in our HIV modeling research project that it is hard to believe that she was still an undergraduate.  For the project, Blair had to comprehend the immunological dynamics involved in HIV infection at the level of a graduate student in biology, she had to understand partial differential equations used in mathematical modeling and reinterpret them as stochastic equations, and she had to demonstrate proficiency in programming methodologies.  Her enthusiasm and dedication elevated this joint Georgia Tech-Emory project to a level far beyond our original expectations, and we were incredibly fortunate to have her work with us.”

Dowling, from Savannah, Ga., enjoys teaching.  At Georgia Tech she worked as a teaching assistant for Calculus II courses.  One summer, she served as head counselor for a math camp for high school students at Boston University called PROMYS – the Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists.

Despite her heavy academic load, Dowling found time for extracurricular activities as well.  She played on the Georgia Tech Women’s Ultimate Frisbee team and additionally served as captain of an intramural ultimate team all four years.  Dowling served as president of the Georgia Tech chapter of Pi Mu Epsilon, the National Math Honor Society, and faculty credit her with reviving this organization and transforming it into a vibrant group that promotes excellence in mathematics and interactions among department faculty and students. Also, Dowling was an active member of Westminster Christian Fellowship and helped organize and raise funds for the renovation of their on-campus building in the spring of 2003.

Through this education program, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security supports the growth and mentoring of the next generation of scientists as they study ways to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America’s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recovery efforts from attacks that occur. More than 100 experts from a variety of fields reviewed the applications. About one-third of the awards were given to students from engineering disciplines, followed by computer science and math, psychology and social sciences.

More information about the Homeland Security Scholars and Fellows Program is available online at the program website.