First-generation grad reflects on the power of seeing potential, giving support

Published: May 17, 2022

Kaitlynn Lilly '22, mathematics and physics. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

Kaitlynn Lilly 

Degree: B.S., Mathematics and Physics
Hometown: Severna Park, MD
Post-grad plans: Ph.D. in applied mathematics, University of Washington

“As a first-generation college student … I didn’t know if going to graduate school would be possible for me, but people believed in me, saw my potential, and gave me the ability to succeed. Being able to give that back to other people has been really powerful for me and has made my UMBC experience very fulfilling.”

Group shot of Kaitlynn Lilly and two middle school students inside Arbutus Middle School.
Kaitlynn Lilly (left) supports students at Arbutus Middle School. (Image courtesy of Lilly)

Kaitlynn Lilly ’22, mathematics and physics, is a Meyerhoff Scholar, member of the Honors College, and 2021-2022 Goldwater Scholar. She conducted research with Justin Webster, assistant professor of mathematics, and participated in summer research experiences with faculty at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Hawai’i. But more than thinking about those achievements, she often reflects on the support that helped her get there and how she can pay it forward.

When she started working with Webster in her first year, Lilly did not have substantial high-level math experience. But Webster “took me under his wing and made sure that I was learning the important background material that I needed,” she says. “And eventually, I was able to start my own independent project.”

As her skills and experience grew, she got involved in more and more difficult projects. “I think that’s one of the unique things that UMBC has to offer,” she says. “I feel like I’ve definitely made the most of my education here, and it’s been a really great experience being involved in so many different kinds of research.”

Three young adults in professional clothing stand by a park bench.
UMBC’s 2021-2022 Goldwater Scholars Karan Luthria (l), Kaitlynn Lilly (c), and Joshua Slaughter (r). (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

Lilly is a dedicated mentor to middle school, high school, and UMBC students through several different programs, for which she received the Ronald M. Shapiro Excellence in Mentoring Award.

While studying partial differential equations for her Ph.D. at University of Washington, she plans to create a group for women in applied math and contribute to an existing program that supports high school students.

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