Kaitlyn Fales ’21 was recently named Student of the Year at a 4-year institution by the Northeast Regional Honors Council. It’s an impressive honor – but not a surprising one. Over the course of her time at Bryant, Fales has explored important issues, asked complex questions, pushed herself and her studies, and found a community that supported her as she strove for excellence.
“I've really had an amazing experience at Bryant, and I'm so glad that I came here,” says Fales. “I wouldn't go anywhere else.”
After completing the Mount Wachusett Community College Pathways Early College Experience program, Fales continued her studies at Bryant University because she knew it would help her meet her full potential. Exploring her educational options led her to major in Applied Mathematics and Statistics, a course of study that would help her make a difference both in college and beyond.
“I decided to join the program because I wanted to challenge myself, and the more that I became involved with the program and learned about it, the more I really fell in love with it, its mission, and its goals.”
“In Applied Math, you're taking the concepts, definitions, and theorems you’re learning and applying them to complex, real-world problems,” she explains. “You always hear that age-old question in high school, ‘Okay, well, what is this formula going to do for me later on?’ Well, the Applied Math curriculum helps you make that leap.”
Fales, a member of Bryant’s Honors Program, embraced its ethos of academic excellence and independent research. “I decided to join the program because I wanted to challenge myself,” she states. “And the more that I became involved with the program and learned about it, the more I really fell in love with it, its mission, and its goals.”
It wasn’t long before her intense sense of curiosity found an outlet. “I love being in the classroom,” Fales notes. “And I love taking the knowledge that I learned there and applying it to other projects.”
“Professor Holtzman helped me realize that I was able to do important research at Bryant even in my first year.”
The origin of her biggest project thus far began in an introductory Honors Contemporary American Politics class taught by Associate Professor of History and Social Sciences Richard Holtzman, Ph.D. “Through the class, I realized that I had a strong interest in voter behavior, and I wanted to explore that in more depth,” says Fales. Inspired, she reached out to Holtzman to determine how she could examine the issue further.
Together, they developed an independent study course that let her explore issues like identity politics and voter behavior models and led her to ask further questions. “Professor Holtzman helped me realize that I was able to do important research at Bryant even in my first year, and the fact that he had the confidence in me to mentor me through that process and encourage collaboration and critical thinking was really helpful for me throughout my journey here,” she says.
An interdisciplinary collaboration
The questions sparked by that course evolved into an Honors Thesis focused on studying voter behavior through the lens of identity. Using data from American National Election Studies institute, Fales studied 2016 election data to identify and predict important trends that help explain how and why people vote the way they do. “I was really interested in understanding how someone's personal identities could help shape their decisions,” she says.
“Being able to actually ask questions, even really big questions, and explore them using the methods you want to use is really satisfying and meaningful."
For her thesis, Fales was advised by both Holtzman and Assistant Professor of Mathematics Alicia Lamere, Ph.D. “It’s been an interdisciplinary collaboration that has allowed me to explore both math and American politics,” says Fales. “I've absolutely loved working with both of them.”
Her work is already attracting notice. Fales recently presented her thesis at the Analytics Without Borders conference and is set to share it at the Midwest Political Science Association Conference. She’s also preparing an article summarizing her findings for submission to academic journals.
Community of learning
At Bryant, Fales discovered a community that helped her accomplish more than she thought possible. “The Math Department faculty truly care about each and every student,” she says. “They’re second to none when it comes to support.”
“I've definitely been spoiled by being at Bryant, and having the community that we do. That is something that I have been looking for in graduate schools, so I can have that same experience there."
The faculty also encourage students to make their own discoveries. “If you bring up something in a class and say, ‘I don't understand why this works the way that it does,’ your professors will tell you ‘OK, let's explore that,’ Fales states. She credits the Honors Program with giving her the opportunity to work on an extended project of interest to her. “Being able to actually ask questions, even really big questions, and explore them using the methods you want to use is really satisfying and meaningful.”
In Lamere, Fales found a dedicated mentor who’s helping her tackle challenges beyond the thesis. “Professor Lamere has definitely been such an inspiration to me because of everything she herself has been able to accomplish,” says Fales. “Throughout the entire grad school application process, she’s helped me every step of the way. Having someone in my corner at Bryant has really helped me through that process.”
The supportive community makes a real difference for students, says Fales, who is Co-President of the Velocity Dance Team, President of the Bryant Applied Math & Statistics Association, and a member of the Bryant Senior Advisory Council. “I've definitely been spoiled by being at Bryant, and having the community that we do,” she says. “That is something that I looked for in graduate schools, so I could have that same experience there.”
“I want to work on things that relate to public policy and to see the practical implications of what I'm doing."
Her thesis, and her Bryant experience, helped her earn admission to multiple programs, says Fales, who has chosen to attend Pennsylvania State University’s doctoral program in Statistics starting in Fall 2021, with full fellowship support. She remembers one interaction she had with a graduate school representative. “He told me, ‘I love hearing you talk about your Honors thesis and the work that you've put into it. That's what tells me that you're ready for graduate school, that you’d be successful here and that you would be a great addition to our program.’"
“That was amazing to hear,” she notes.
After earning her doctorate, Fales intends to continue using her work to explore issues that matter, either as part of a research policy institute or in industry. “There’s so many different areas I could do statistics research in, from using data to change how we govern, to the environment, or to the social sciences,” she says. “I want to work on things that relate to public policy and to see the practical implications of what I'm doing.”