Harvey Mudd Junior Kerria Pang-Naylor Named 2024 Goldwater Scholar

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The most prestigious national award for undergraduate STEM researchers, the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, has been awarded to Harvey Mudd College joint computer science and mathematics major Kerria Pang-Naylor ’25.

Pang-Naylor joins 28 previous Harvey Mudd recipients of the scholarship since Congress endowed it in 1986. Harvey Mudd students are well-positioned to compete for the award, aimed at students in the United States who demonstrate exceptional academic achievement and a strong commitment to pursuing careers in mathematics, natural sciences or engineering. HMC students participate as colleagues with faculty members, investigating open-ended questions, producing world-class research, presenting findings at national conferences and co-publishing papers in peer-reviewed journals. A total of 438 Goldwater Scholars were selected this year from a field of 1,353 students nominated by their academic institutions. The scholarship covers up to $7,500 toward the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board.

Starting in summer 2022, Pang-Naylor worked in Heather Zinn-Brooks’ research group to develop and study methods for fitting the parameters of bounded-confidence models with social media datasets. During this project, she analyzed the structure of information cascades and relationship networks on social media and generated opinion distributions based on probabilistic assignments of trained binary text classification models. In 2023, she also worked in George Montañez’s AMISTAD Lab on two projects involving probabilistic inference and machine learning theory.

With teammates Ian Li ’25 and Kishore Rajesh ’25, Pang-Naylor completed a paper this summer that presents a quantitative framework for selective abduction. They sought to derive bounds for abductive success under two criteria: (1) rewarding the selection of one most likely cause, or (2) rewarding the selection of any cause whose probability is above some threshold.

“I am also working on a project with Eric Chen ‘24 involving the study of supervised machine learning algorithms with inductive orientation vectors,” says Pang-Naylor, who has worked as a grader/tutor in HMC computer science and mathematics classes. “We quantify the behavior of these algorithms through three well-known theoretical metrics: algorithmic bias, algorithmic capacity and entropic expressivity. These measures describe an algorithm’s tendency to predict the correct class, its ability to adapt to changes in training data and the variance of the algorithm’s predictions.”

Upon graduation from Harvey Mudd, Pang-Naylor plans to pursue a PhD in applied mathematics or computer science with a focus on mathematical data science. “I am most excited about research involving machine learning theory, optimization and probabilistic inference,” she says.

About the Goldwater

The Goldwater Scholarships are the result of a partnership with the Department of Defense National Defense Education Programs and the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. The scholarship program honoring Senator Barry Goldwater was designed to foster and encourage outstanding students to pursue careers in the fields of mathematics, the natural sciences and engineering. All Harvey Mudd sophomores and juniors are eligible to compete for the Goldwater Scholarship.