AMHERST, Mass. – University of Massachusetts Amherst senior Morgan Opie, a mathematics and physics double major and member of Commonwealth Honors College (CHC), is one of 14 students nationwide to receive a 2014 Churchill Scholarship, which funds a year of postgraduate study at the University of Cambridge in England. The Churchill Scholarship is one of the most prestigious awards for studying abroad in the U.K.
The Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States offers the scholarships to outstanding American students who wish to pursue graduate studies in engineering, mathematics or the sciences at the University of Cambridge. The scholarship, which is worth about $50,000, pays for a year of tuition, fees, living expenses and travel.
“It’s a great honor to be named a Churchill Scholar,” said Opie. “It is pretty surreal to think that this magical opportunity is my reality.” The 20-year-old from Cotuit will study in the department of pure mathematics at the University of Cambridge, where she will pursue a Master of Advanced Study through Part III of the Mathematical Tripos, the oldest and most famous mathematics examination in the world. Part III is a one-year taught master’s course. Students from outside Cambridge who take the course obtain a MASt (Master of Advanced Study) degree.
“I’m excited about the vast array of mathematics courses offered through Part III,” said Opie. “I’ll have two main academic goals while I am there: gaining knowledge within the field of algebraic geometry, and broadening my mathematical horizons by exploring completely new topics.”
Opie initially planned to study physics, but her interest in mathematics emerged during her time as a student at Cape Cod Community College. When she transferred to UMass Amherst to complete her undergraduate degree, Opie encountered advanced material in both mathematics and physics, and realized that her true passion was for abstract mathematical exploration. She is most interested in algebra-related topics, and currently plans to specialize in algebraic geometry. After completing Part III, Opie plans to pursue a doctorate in mathematics at a U.S. graduate school.
Opie worked closely with Susan Krauss Whitbourne, professor of psychology and director of the Office of National Scholarship Advisement (ONSA) in CHC, on the extensive Churchill Scholarship application process. According to Whitbourne, “This was the first year the university was invited to participate in the Churchill Scholarship Program, making it a particularly notable achievement for Morgan, and the entire campus.”
“ONSA provided superb support throughout the Churchill application process. In particular, Professor Whitbourne and Dr. Howard Schultz were extremely kind and helpful,” said Opie. “Their guidance was crucial to my success, and I cannot thank them enough. I would definitely recommend that other students explore the resources available through ONSA.”
Professor Jenia Tevelev, Opie’s adviser and mentor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UMass, says Opie has “a natural talent, an intuitive grasp and an inherent taste for good mathematics, highly non-standard way of thinking, and hunger and passion to learn as much as possible. Opie’s drive and stamina became legendary in our department, where she is known as a true force of nature.”
Opie is already an accomplished mathematician: she has written a well-received paper “Extremal divisors on moduli spaces of rational curves with marked points” based on her summer 2013 research project in algebraic geometry with Tevelev. Opie has presented a poster about this work at the Young Mathematicians Conference at Ohio State University and the AGNES (Algebraic Geometry Northeastern Series) Conference at Boston University. She was also invited to give lectures at seminars and research conferences at the University of Massachusetts, University of Georgia, and University of Illinois at Chicago.
For her achievements in academics and research, Opie has been recognized both on campus and nationally. She is the 2014 runner up for the Alice T. Schafer Prize, a national prize for excellence in mathematics by an undergraduate woman. She is receiving this distinction at the January 2014 joint meeting of the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America. Opie is also one of the four students selected to receive the 2013 UMass Amherst Rising Researcher award. In addition to excelling in mathematics, Opie enjoys music, dance, reading and hiking.