Math Mural

A Community Built Through Math and Art

December 13, 2022

What is something that math and art have in common? For Drew Horton, a third-year PhD student within the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, the answer is simple: community. “I am always talking about community and it’s so important here at CU Denver,” Horton said. “It’s not like your traditional college experience, but the community is so close-knit, and everybody wants to feel part of something and support each other.” And, for Horton, that community has become a family that supports and mentors her.  

Last spring, Horton found a way to recognize the individuals at CU Denver who have championed her as she works toward her goal of earning a PhD in a unique way—through art. Before realizing her passion for math, Horton was an art major, and when she is not running equations, Horton spends her time drawing, painting, and working on various art projects. She entered a contest to design the new department logo and created a design that highlighted her support network and journey at CU Denver.  

Although she didn’t win, she was asked to paint the image on the fourth floor of the Student Commons, outside the Department of Math and Statistics. The mural shows a woman’s profile, which recognizes the lack of representation of women in math fields. But, if you look closer, the mural is broken into 12 research models that represent individuals who helped Horton and became a pillar in her CU Denver community. We sat down with Horton—who is also a TA coach—to learn more about the people who inspired her to lead and grow.   

1. Kirana Bergstrom, PhD Candidate | Silhouette 

“She’s a huge advocate for students. She spoke up about the things we wanted as students, and she helped me lead a DEI town hall for our department so we could talk about problems and how we can fix them or things we would like to work on. She’s one of the most important parts of my community.” 

2. Travis Smiley, PhD Student | Black and white lines and shapes  

“For his master’s project, he’s looking at housing in Denver and where to place affordable housing. He is building a method to place housing where people need it the most. Most methods would place a grocery store where it benefits the most people, but what about the people living on the outskirts? There are fewer people there, but they might need housing the most. Travis’ method adjusts this so that its equity is considered.” 

3. Emily Speakman, PhD, Professor and Advisor | Yellow, orange, and blue shapes 

“She has been the best thing to ever happen to me. This department and the community alone are amazing, but I would not have stayed here if it wasn’t for her. She helped build my confidence and taught me to be more confident in myself as a mathematician.” 

4. Zach Sorenson, PhD Candidate | Black circles with black lines inside 

“He is a good friend and a cool person. He was finishing his preliminary exams when I was taking the first one and he would give me and other students tips to prepare. He’s very into the community, and a lot of the time he’ll have get-togethers at his house, because he has a backyard, and we will hang out there and spend time together as a group.” 

5. Angela Morrison, PhD Candidate | Blue dots with orange and black arrows 

“She’s amazing and the president of American Mathematical Society (AMS). She is a huge community builder and organizes a sock exchange for Christmas, happy hours, and lunches for each class. The younger students always seek her out for advice. She’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to build a community between undergraduate and graduate students here. I didn’t have older students to ask for help during my undergraduate program. I wanted that community bond here because it helps when applying to graduate school, especially if you don’t have a parent or mentor to guide you.” 

6. Connor Mattes, PhD Candidate | Three black and white circles with hexagons inside  

“He’s somebody who’s able to break things down for you and doesn’t become frustrated if you ask him to explain something. He can do a great job of figuring out how to explain something to you so that you understand it. He was the preliminary exam tutor and I really appreciated that he was approachable because I wasn’t afraid to ask questions.” 

7. Nick Crawford, PhD Student | Yellow shapes with three black and white shapes inside 

“Nick and I work together on a project regarding fire evacuation. We’re both from California, so we’ve seen a lot of fires. He advocates for people in our department who may not have the willpower or strength to advocate for themselves. If someone says something they shouldn’t, he corrects them.” 

8. Rebecca Robinson, PhD Candidate | Orange, yellow, and black lines connecting the yellow, red, blue, and black circles 

“She was the TA coach before me, and she’s helped me figure out how to be a better TA coach. She’s the only woman in our department in graph theory. She did her comprehensive exam a bit before me and could aid my anxiety regarding that. For context, the comprehensive exam is a six- to eight-hour written exam, with an oral follow-up where they ask you questions on what you did or if you didn’t get to something. Being able to go through that experience together was awesome.” 

9. Nathan Graber, PhD, CU Denver Alum | Blue curved lines with black dots inside, and the blue and orange dotted lines 

“He is an amazing, phenomenal teacher. He subbed one day for the class I was taking, and I told him, ‘You are meant to do this; you are so great at teaching.’ He coached me through thinking about problems and helped me when I was stuck without giving me the answer, which is valuable. I wanted to represent that I was drowning my first year and how he helped me keep my head above water.” 

10. Emma Collins, MS, CU Denver Alum | Topographic lines 

“I was nervous to start teaching. I had some teaching experience prior because I had done a fellowship. However, I was terrified of getting up in front of a classroom. You feel like you’re not good enough, not smart enough, and making mistakes. Then you feel like it’s the end of the world. Having her there to build me up, she would visit my class and tell me I’m doing a great job. She helped me realize it’s OK to not be perfect at this right away, keep learning, and work along the way.”  

11. Nick Weaver, PhD, CU Denver Alum | Tiny yellow dots 

“He just graduated and is now teaching. He was the TA coach, and this role helps the incoming students feel comfortable. He always gives me feedback on new things I can try during my lectures, what went well, and how to handle specific issues like a quiet student who does not participate.” 

12. Megan Duff, PhD Candidate | Bar graph resembling a city skyline 

“She’s currently the vice president of AMS and was one of the founding members. She’s always smiling, always happy, and always uplifting people. She’s a PhD student studying statistics and does work in genomics, basically studying AI. It can be easily misused. An example would be a company using a machine-learning algorithm to whittle down resumes, but they end up being biased. She is working to combat this.” 

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