Student’s math skills add up to Cambridge scholarship

Through several scholarships, Zach Norwood was able to receive a first-class education at Cambridge.


Zach Norwood’s senior thesis isn’t a subject he’s likely to bring up at a party.

“My thesis is about divisor sequences realizable in Krull monoids.”

Even a lot of math people wouldn’t necessarily know what a Krull monoid is, he says. It’s a little peculiar. (For people who know something about math, it’s about finding solutions to linear equations.)

Norwood, a UNL math major from Papillion, Neb., can’t remember ever not loving math. It’s always been sort of mysterious and fascinating to him.

He laughs.

“A lot of people don’t sympathize with that.”

Norwood recently was selected as one of 30 Gates Scholars from the United States who will study at Cambridge University for a year. He flies to England in October.

“I’m really excited,” he says. “And it’s still a little surprising. It hasn’t fully settled in yet. But I can’t imagine it’ll be anything but a fantastic experience. From everything I’ve heard, Cambridge is a wonderful place and there is a lot of exciting mathematics going on there.”

About 800 students applied for the program, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Norwood is the first student from the University of Nebraska to be selected. About 80, including Norwood, were flown to New York City for interviews.

Norwood credits privately funded money through the University of Nebraska Foundation with making his college career as fun and successful as it’s been and helping him earn the prestigious Gates honor.

“It’s really great not to have to hold a part-time job,” he says. “Something like that takes away from studying and interacting with other students. I think it really helps you focus on your studies when you don’t have to spend time worrying about money.”

And he can do math – he knows he’d be dealing with a lot of debt right now without the money from scholarships.

Freshman year, he won a Pepsi Service Scholarship, which provided about $1,000 a year toward tuition and other expenses and also took a course that focused on service learning. He got to interact and do service learning. He got to interact and do service projects with the other scholars in the program.

Through the UNL math department, he won an Eastman scholarship that provided him a laptop and about $4,000 over the four years.

Scholarship money also allowed him the time to play clarinet in the Cornhusker Marching Band and symphonic band his freshman year. It allowed him the time to be a member – and eventually president – of the UNL Honors Program’s Student Advisory Board.

This past year, he participated in another program called UCARE, which pairs brilliant undergraduates at UNL with professors. Norwood works with Roger Wiegand, who had been his abstract algebra professor his freshman year.

“He was the first one who got me excited about abstract algebra, and that is what my research project with him now is about.”

The UCARE program is sponsored by the Pepsi Endowment and the Program of Excellence funds. Norwood also received private money from the Robert O. and Gloria L. Vesper Scholarship Fund, the Shuler-Mills Scholarship Fund and from the Kiffin Scholarship.

“I’ve just really gotten a first-class education here,” he says. “Not having to worry about finances when you’re focusing on your education is just a great gift.”

If you’d like to help support UNL’s College of Arts and Sciences or the Department of Mathematics and promising UNL students like Norwood, contact Amber Antholz, Josh Egley or Sunny Backlund at 800-432-3216.

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