Faculty Mentor Spotlight

An Applied Model for Increasing Equity and Success:
Speakman and Horton Have Solved for the Ideal Mentor/Mentee Relationship to Optimize Research Collaboration


“You can do what you love, and find a way to help people,” says Emily Speakman, Assistant Professor of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. Even better, Speakman has found a way to continue this cycle and help other mathematicians find joy and do good as well, via research relationships.  

Emily Speakman had a mentor when she was a graduate student who encouraged her to research with friends. She took his advice, and early in her research journey she found the best collaborators had, “the same goals and complementary work styles, and were passionate about the same things I’m passionate about. That’s where great research comes from.”

Currently, Speakman is researching with PhD student Drew Horton. Horton was not always a math person. “In fact I hated math,” she says. “My math story started in the class I teach now, College Algebra. I had a professor who I’m actually still really close with that changed my views around mathematics and made me want to be a math major.”

Horton started that math journey at Sonoma State University, which she describes as being all about diversity, equity and inclusion. She says, “ I feel like equity has been at the forefront of my interests for a long time. Being a woman in math, I was interested in doing very purposeful math, something that can contribute. I’ve always been really interested in policy and equity.”

After being accepted to several prestigious graduate programs, Horton visited and was sold on CU Denver because she felt like she found a group of like-minded individuals. “I came here for the community and the support, because it felt like a very collaborative department and atmosphere.”

Speakman and Horton both started in the department in the fall of 2019, and quickly bonded. Their research together melds Speakman’s more theoretical background in optimization modeling with Horton’s drive to make real world impacts. So far, they’ve published together on the prevalence of food deserts using a data set covering the largest 500 cities in the US. Next the pair will use the model to complete Horton’s thesis research, focusing on potential placement of ballot boxes and the impact they could have on voting equity.

Speakman says she has a reputation in the math department: there’s always laughter coming out of her office. “Maybe some people would think that means I’m not serious enough to be a mathematician, but for me it means I like what I do,” Speakman says with a laugh. Horton smiles and continues the thought, “If you can do math, you need to be supported and encouraged to go for it and try that adventure. I love that that this the vibe we have together.”

Horton feels strongly, “I’ve found myself in a math community of people who really care and want to be here, where a lot of students are commuter, non-traditional students and are from all these diverse backgrounds and cultures, and it makes for such an awesome experience. Especially when the faculty supports that and believes in the importance of that.”

Horton found a way to express the appreciation she feels for that community in a unique way – by painting a mural on the fourth floor of the Student Commons, outside the Department of Mathematical  and Statistical Sciences. The mural shows a woman’s profile, which is broken into 12 research models that represent individuals who helped Horton realize her passion for math.

Looking to the future, Horton isn’t sure she will stay in academia but she knows that wherever she goes the solid research experiences she’s gotten working with Speakman will buoy her.  “I want to be a part of the new math world… where you don’t have to be quick to be a mathematician. I’m not quick, I’m slow, but given the time to really think I bring a different perspective to the table. People are starting to appreciate that.”

Horton and Speakman’s collaborative research relationship shows what’s possible in a new math future. Horton believes, “That’s how were going to change math – it’s not going to be ‘I suffered through this so now you have to too,’ it’s going to be asking how we can stop the suffering and support each other.”


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