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Math, Computer Science Major Wins Churchill Scholarship

National Award to Send Widely Published Senior to Cambridge for Master’s

By Chelsea Torres M.Jour. ’12

Tanay Wakhare teaches in a classroom

Photo by Faye Levine

Tanay Wakhare, a math and computer science double major who has taught multiple Student Initiated Courses, is one of 15 students nationwide awarded a 2020–21 Winston Churchill Scholarship.

A University of Maryland senior studying math and computer science is one of 15 students nationwide awarded a 2020–21 Winston Churchill Scholarship to pursue a one-year master’s degree at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

Tanay Wakhare headshotTanay Wakhare, a member of the University Honors program in the Honors College and a Banneker/Key Scholar, will pursue a Master of Philosophy degree in advanced computer science through the award announced today.

Five UMD students have received the scholarship since its inception in 1963—including four in the past three years. Valued at around $60,000, it covers all educational fees and provides living and travel allowances for outstanding students in the sciences, engineering and math.

“Tanay is already making his mark on the field of mathematics, through his achievements in the classroom as a student and teacher and through his research,” said College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences Dean Amitabh Varshney. 

The Churchill Scholarship will allow Wakhare, a 2018 Goldwater Scholar, to join the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Group in the Computer Laboratory at Cambridge, where Wakhare will work in the field of graph algorithms.

“I think that a lot of fundamental AI breakthroughs have occurred within the last decade, and that it has the potential to really change society,” Wakhare said. “It’s a place where my mathematical research background can be put to good use.”

While a student at Quince Orchard High School in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Wakhare worked in the Applied and Computational Mathematics Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. At the 2016 International Conference on Number Theory, he met Christophe Vignat, a professor of physics at the Université Paris-Saclay and an invited professor of mathematics at Tulane University. The pair have since collaborated on several papers on number theory and combinatorics—a branch of mathematics that focuses on counting.

“Tanay is an exceptionally talented young mathematician—by far the best student I have ever met in my career,” Vignat said. “He has a very promising future in mathematics.”

Wakhare has published 12 research papers, submitted eight papers for publication and is preparing two additional papers for publication. 

He has also taught multiple Student Initiated Courses (STICs), a program that allows UMD students to design and teach for-credit courses with a faculty member’s guidance. In Fall 2017, he began teaching the Department of Mathematics’ first STIC, the “Mathematics of Ramanujan,” about an Indian pioneer in number theory. While the topic may sound complex to a non-math major, Wakhare developed the course to make it more approachable to peers from all majors. He went on to teach other STICs such as “Proofs from the Book” and “The Mathematics of Erdos,” both on the study of counting. 

“Tanay is a genuine phenomenon, a force of nature—the definition of a fearless Terp,” said Richard Bell, a UMD associate professor of history who serves as the university’s faculty adviser for United Kingdom fellowships. “The award of the Churchill Scholarship is well-deserved recognition for one of the brightest and most gifted young mathematicians working today.”

After his time at Cambridge comes to an end, Wakhare plans to earn his Ph.D. and pursue a research career.

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