Hailing from Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Maria Gillespie, PhD, began studying mathematics seriously in middle school under the tutelage of her father, Ken Monks, who is a mathematician at the University of Scranton. Around the same time, she cultivated a keen interest in stargazing and understanding the structure of the universe. After excelling at numerous math and science competitions in high school, she applied to MIT, intending to study astrophysics as a natural combination of her two scientific interests.
While at MIT, Maria found that her true strength and passion was in understanding the theoretical mathematics behind the physics she was studying, and switched to pursuing mathematics as her primary major while obtaining a minor in physics. Over the course of her studies and research, she found herself drawn to algebraic combinatorics, a modern field of mathematics which employs algebraic techniques to study discrete mathematical structures, of which she went on to study as a graduate student at Berkeley, as a Hertz Fellowship recipient. Her thesis focused combinatorial ways to describe certain symmetric polynomials called Macdonald polynomials, which arise naturally in many contexts, from geometry to representation theory. She is now continuing her work in algebraic combinatorics as an NSF postdoctoral fellow at UC Davis.
Maria is one of the founders and head instructors at Prove it! Math Academy, a summer program for talented high school students that aims to bridge the gap between computational mathematics and rigorous proof writing. She also volunteers at local educational events, and regularly shares mathematical insights in her blog, Finding Gemstones. She considers it her duty to spread the word about the beauty and importance of mathematics, and hopes to eventually have a positive impact on mathematics education as a whole.
Maria is as avid a runner as she is a mathematician. She ran for the MIT cross-country team, and earned NCAA All-American Honors (top 15) at the 2010 Division III Cross-Country National Championships. She now is pursuing trail running in the Bay Area, and has won several local trail races. When Maria is not running or doing mathematics, she often can be found reading, hiking, or playing the piano.