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Large group of students celebrating graduation, Winter 2018

Kaylen Forney

Kaylen Forney smiling in front of the plants outside the Cone Center

Forney Finds Desired College Experience with UNC Charlotte

By Wyatt Crosher, Assistant Director of Communications for Student Affairs

Kaylen Forney came to UNC Charlotte last January to begin her undergraduate research. One year later, she was presenting a model she helped create that can accurately predict how a bridge will distort after natural disasters.

Forney, a mathematics major from Morganton, N.C., initially arrived at Charlotte in January 2022 as a transfer student because she was hoping to do research within her major as an undergrad. The University stood out to Forney for, along with her research requirement, its resources available to transfer students, as well as its education program.

“It's been fantastic,” Forney said. “I've done everything that I wanted to do in college over the past year.”

That desire to pursue research early has paid off.

Forney, along with her research partner, Anastasiia Unzhakova, presented at the 2023 Joint Mathematics Meetings (JMM) in Boston, held January 4-7. JMM is the largest annual meeting of mathematicians in the world. 

There, they presented their paper, "2D Bridge Modeling for Safety and Daily Life to Catastrophe Prevention," and poster "Extracting Critical Elements of Bridge Design Using 2D Modeling" in the Pi Mu Epsilon Undergraduate Poster Session. 

The research that Forney worked on involved the aforementioned modeling system that is able to accurately predict how bridges distort from the effects of natural disasters. The model creates designs inspired by real bridges, provides an estimate of the cost for materials and accurately simulates the forces that act upon the structures.

"The big thing with mathematics and why it's so great is that you can simplify things,” Forney said. “We can't perfectly predict how a bridge is going to distort, but if we can find a simple system in order to kind of make that prediction and get it to be as realistic as possible, it would be very beneficial.”

The feedback on the model was very positive, both on the knowledge of the subject, as well as the clarity and accessibility of the model.

“They said our goal was very clear, that this is something very useful, and not too much of an abstract idea that your average person who isn't mathematically inclined would be confused,” Forney said. “We tried to take a really complex idea and synthesize it down so that hopefully, anyone could see it and say 'OK, I see the steps you guys took and how you got to your conclusions and how you made the system.' "

But undergraduate research isn’t the only box that Charlotte has checked off on Forney’s college to-do list. Inspired by her mom’s experiences, Forney, now a senior, also wanted an on-campus job, which she found by becoming a housing ambassador for Housing and Residence Life (HRL).

"When I toured here, I really enjoyed the housing portion specifically,” Forney said. “I really like the position. I enjoyed my tour, and it's been fun being on the other side of things.”

Forney also enjoys being a housing ambassador for the opportunity to interact with high school students making the transition to college.

After her time with the University, Forney said she plans on being a high school teacher, something that wasn’t in the plans just a few years prior until she had an opportunity to be a teaching assistant (TA) when she was a high school senior. That experience made her realize teaching was something she actually had a passion for.

“People used to say 'Oh, so you want to do math? So you want to teach?' And I'd be like 'No, absolutely not,’” Forney said. "But being a TA showed me I had a talent for teaching and helping people learn and explore different ideas.”

Before she becomes a teacher, Forney said she’s been considering a master’s program for math education. As for her remaining time at Charlotte, she just wants to continue building on all the positive experiences she’s had in her first year with the University.

"I just want to finish out as strong as I've started,” Forney said. “Here, there's been a lot of space for me to flourish academically, and I want to continue that through."