Sciences

Math-Stats Major Named Goldwater Scholar

Simon Couch ’21 earns national recognition for promise in science and math.

By Romel Hernandez | April 13, 2020

Simon Couch ’21 has been awarded a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for sophomores and juniors who show “exceptional promise” in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

The national recognition gave him a major confidence boost, “I feel a lot less like an impostor,” he jokes.

Hailing from De Soto, Kansas, Simon came to Reed College planning to become a physician like his mother. During winter break of his first year, the Center for Life Beyond Reed connected him with an opportunity to shadow doctors at a clinic. He wound up taking on a data analysis project for the clinic, using the skills he learned in the introductory statistics course he had just taken at Reed. 

“I wound up falling in love with a career path I had never considered,” he says. Since then he has been especially interested in the crossover between statistics and sociology, and hopes to explore new ways of applying statistics “to have a positive social impact.”

He is an “absolute asset” to Reed’s statistics program, says Prof. Kelly McConville [math]. “Simon is such a collaborative, welcoming spirit.”

Last year he worked with a team of Reed students and professors researching data privacy. Their project on “differentially private hypothesis testing” won first place in a national competition and will help data scientists develop new ways to study sensitive data while also protecting individual privacy.

“Getting to interact with professors who are so willing and excited to work with students on important research has been an incredible part of my experience here,” he says.

His ability not only to crunch numbers but also communicate ideas helped get him elected president of the campus chapter of the American Statistical Association. He also excels as a class assistant and tutor helping non-math majors with quantitative elements of their senior theses.

Simon is grateful for the opportunities he has gotten at Reed, from CLBR advisors steering him toward career and scholarship resources, to professors encouraging his research interests. “In many ways I’m the sum of all my mentors,” he says. “I’ve benefited from so many teachers and professors and people in the community who have shown me curiosity isn’t a weird thing.”

Couch is majoring in mathematics with a concentration in statistics. He plans to attend graduate school and pursue a career in computational statistics. “There are so many directions you could go,” he says. “I’m excited to explore the different roads.”

The Goldwater Scholarship Program is one of the oldest and most prestigious scholarships in the natural sciences, engineering, and mathematics in the United States. Its mission is to support sophomores and juniors who “show exceptional promise of becoming this Nation’s next generation of research leaders,” focusing on students who show strong commitment to research, demonstrate intellectual intensity, and have potential for significant future contributions. The foundation presented scholarship awards to 396 college sophomores and juniors nationwide this year.

Tags: Academics, Awards & Achievements, Life Beyond Reed, Research, Students