Kayla Cummings ’18 and six Pomona College alumni are each recipients of the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships Program. The Graduate Research Fellowships support the graduate education of outstanding students who are promising in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by providing three years of financial support within a five-year fellowship period – $34,000 annual stipend and $12,000 cost-of-education allowance to the graduate institution.

Cummings, a mathematics major from Virginia Beach, Virginia, will begin a Ph.D. program in operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology this fall 2018. As a graduate student in operations research, Cummings will use math models, computation and data science to “efficiently allocate scarce resources under uncertainty.”

Second headshot of Kayla Cummings.

Kayla Cummings '18 

Cummings is interested in optimizing the operations of large and complex systems, particularly the U.S. airport network. “A single delayed flight can negatively impact flight schedules at airports across the country,” she says. “Competitive behavior precludes airlines from working together to prevent delay from propagating throughout the U.S. In my research proposal, I design a math model to simulate what happens when airlines cooperatively reroute delayed flights with the goal of globally minimizing delay. Positive results could streamline passenger experiences and reduce costs without changing national airport infrastructure.”

Cummings explains that operations research is traditionally a profit-oriented field in which researchers look at issues within commercial contexts. As a low-income and first-generation student, Cummings says she hopes to conduct research that will benefit underserved communities. “This might include inventory management in food banks or designing mechanisms to effectively coordinate triage efforts after natural disasters. My vision is to allocate resources for the communities who need those resources the most!”

For Cummings, going to graduate school and being awarded an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship is a “huge victory” for her entire family.

“I have a lot of people to thank, especially Professors Susan Martonosi (Harvey Mudd), Tzu-Yi Chen and Johanna Hardin. They are not only academic and research mentors to me, but also incredible examples of women in STEM. I am also grateful to QuestBridge, an organization for low-income and first-generation students, through which I learned about Pomona. I plan to pay everything forward.”

Pomona alumni currently in graduate school who were awarded NSF fellowships are: John Albright ’16, Paula Burkhardt ’16, Amber Datta ’13, David Khatami ’16, Kathryn Kistler ’12 and Johanna Rayl ’16.

This year, the NSF awarded graduate research fellowships to 2,000 students selected from more than 12,000 applicants. The support is for graduate study that leads to a research-based master's or doctoral degree in a STEM field.