Few students will accomplish as much in their four years of college as Lindsay Lee has in two. A sophomore pursuing a double major in mathematics and Spanish, Lee is a Haslam Scholar, vice president of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council for the College of Arts and Sciences, a columnist for The Daily Beacon, and a tutor at the Math Tutorial Center.
She also uses a wheelchair—but she doesn’t let that hinder her from making the most of her college experience every day.
A student from Oak Ridge, Lee has always enjoyed and excelled in math and Spanish. Her high school calculus teacher, Benita Albert (whom Lee deemed a “math goddess”), taught her the benefits of having a math degree and encouraged Lee to pursue math as a major in college.
Although Lee hoped to explore life at a college outside East Tennessee, UT captured her attention when she learned she was a finalist for the Haslam Scholars Program—a diverse honors enrichment program founded in 2008 by Jimmy and Dee Haslam and Jim and Natalie Haslam. She decided to accept, even though it meant staying close to home, and it turned out to be a wise decision.
Each year, the Haslam Scholars Program admits fifteen first-year students and offers them the chance to enhance their learning through a series of integrated, interdisciplinary seminars and extracurricular experiences. The program has given Lee opportunities to be involved in a number of activities, including volunteering with Redeeming Hope Ministries, a local organization dedicated to helping area homeless persons. Last fall, Lee helped organize a 5K fun run that raised $7,000 for the organization.
Lee has also had the opportunity to participate in an analytical research project with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) as part of a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates. Last summer, she and a team of eight others analyzed data to create a mathematical model of the feral cat population of Knox County in order to show the effects of spay schedules on population growth.
“I had never worked in a collaborative research setting before, but the atmosphere of the group environment was really neat,” says Lee. “I learned so much, and when we were told the information we had gathered was exactly what was needed, I felt like my contribution had actually made a difference.”
“Lindsay contributed greatly to our summer research program through her creativity, high energy level, and positive attitude,” says professor Suzanne Lenhart, Lee’s mentor in the project. Lenhart also helped Lee find ways to share her research beyond NIMBioS. In January, Lee participated in the 2012 Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston—the largest annual mathematics meeting in the world—and presented a poster summarizing her research on feral cats.
While Lee has accomplished much already as an undergraduate student at UT, she has encountered many challenges as well, including her major coursework.
“Abstract math is not my forte, and if it were not for [assistant professor] Remus Nicoara, I don’t think I would survive,” Lee admits. “But it’s a good thing that my major challenges me. I wouldn’t want to be in something that was too easy, or else I would get bored.”
And Lee has the same positive attitude about her disability. Although she sometimes must deal with inaccessible transportation or have to take an indirect route to her classes, she has learned to address the challenges she faces and is grateful for UT’s support in trying to accommodate her needs.
“UT generally does a good job of embracing diversity and difference, and that energizes me to be more confident in who I am,” says Lee, who enjoys meeting students from different backgrounds, cultures, and socioeconomic statuses.
Lee is hoping to start an organization on campus for disabled students to create awareness and to advocate for improvements to be made locally and nationally for those with disabilities. She also plans to study abroad in Bilbao, Spain, and visit the Guggenheim Museum there before she graduates. Although she has not yet decided what she wants to do after graduation, one can expect that no matter which route Lee takes, she has a bright future ahead.
–Sara Collins Haywood