Andrew Furnas '11 has been named a recipient of the Marshall Scholarship, a nationally competitive fellowship which sponsors two years of graduate study in the United Kingdom.
A minimum 3.7 GPA is required of applicants, but a 3.85 to 3.9 GPA is usually necessary to be competitive, according to Linda Dunleavy, associate dean of the College for fellowships and pre-law. Students also must demonstrate leadership skills, community involvement and a passion for their field of study.
"Having all of those ingredients come together isn't common," Dunleavy said. But this was exactly the case with Furnas. "He inspired us," Dunleavy said. "His passion and enthusiasm shone through his application."
A mathematics concentrator, Furnas had almost forgotten his love of sewing by the time he reached college, he said. He had sewed with his father and attended sewing summer camp as a child.
"When I came back to Brown in my sophomore year, I decided to take a class completely different from math or computer science," he said. Having already taken VISA 0100: "Studio Foundation" his freshmen year, Furnas decided to rekindle his passion for design and take a textiles class at the Rhode Island School of Design.
It was during this class that Furnas began to study the intersection of design, mathematics and computation, he said. The way in which a designer attempts to understand the structure and movement of a piece of fabric is similar to the way in which mathematicians study shapes and structures of a plane in differential geometry, he explained.
"Fabric is, at a local level, at a very small level, like a plane," Furnas said. "Depending on its weave structure, you get more bend out of it."
This study was Furnas' first real foray into applied mathematics, he said. During his time at Brown, Furnas has worked closely with Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics Govind Menon, his textile professor at RISD and many others in the Department of Computer Science to further his research. He also collaborated internationally with friends and professors at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands.
In an e-mail to The Herald, Menon described a characteristic meeting with Furnas: "Last summer Andy solved differential equations that describe Chebyshev nets and then used these solutions to stitch coverings of spheres ... He was so surprised to see that everything worked as it should, that he ran from his apartment to my office carrying a basketball he had just draped perfectly. It was a funny moment of genuine discovery."
It was this unique field of interest, Furnas' genuine, caring character and his impressive academic standing — he was also a recipient of the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship his junior year — that earned him the University's endorsement, Dunleavy said.
"Andy's unusual course of study epitomizes the promise of the Open Curriculum," Menon wrote.
Furnas was awarded the Marshall in early November after "grueling" months of editing his application and being interviewed, he said.
The scholarship allows Furnas to design his own program of study — a factor that particularly enticed him to apply, he said. He said he is currently in discussion with individuals from the organization that administers the grant, planning what the next two years hold for him.