Mathematician in the Making

This article was written by Claire Serrano, a ninth grader in Comp and Lit class at U-32. She wrote this piece for an assignment to create a Character Profile Story about a member of our community.

In a picture, a tall woman in a blue cardigan and messy ponytail stands with her hands on her hips and squints into the camera as the cameraman snaps the shot. Natalie, the woman in the picture sighs loudly as she folds up the newspaper, her posture weakening. 


“It’s so bad, the cameraman insisted I stand in the sun. I couldn´t see a thing!” she sighs disappointedly. 


The headline reads “A Norwich Researcher Asks What More AI Can Teach Us About Gun Violence”


This is my mother, Dr. Natalie Cartwright. She has a Ph.D. in mathematics. 


At present, she sits relaxed with her legs out in a bed, awaiting my interview. Her eyes were fixed on the shiny silver computer on her lap. 


“Mama, MAMA!” I repeated. Still, she didn’t stir. She is easily distracted and has the focus of an eagle. Often I find myself waiting for minutes before getting a response from her. 


When her computers are on, and her work is at her gaze, nothing will distract her. 


She wasn’t always into math, she tells me. “I used to go to math class and not think twice about it.”


It wasn’t anything special to her, at the time, she wanted to go to college for business administration. To make a decent living. 


My mother grew up in a small town in the middle of New Hampshire, near Keene. Her parents Joe and Anne Cartwright built their home all by themselves, with 4 acres of land, and their trail system, her early life was filled with high expectations and hours and hours of hard work. 


Now, my family travels to my grandparents’ house every holiday and special occasion, it became my second home. My mother´s father Joe served in the air force during the war. He was often absent for big chunks of her childhood. Growing up as a Cartwright wasn’t easy. There is always a time to beat, and grades to perfect. A goal to achieve. Her parents were old school, and strict, and ensured their children were always ahead of others’ expectations. 


My mother won State´s (XC running) as a 9th grader (14 years old). And later went on to win bronze in the Junior Olympics (Nordic skiing). Just falling short of making the Olympics. She was a go-getter, who valued hard work. 


Natalie tells me of the summer of 8th grade when she took math with her father. She remembers spending weeks outside, on her father´s picnic table in the bright sun, solving math problems and trying to learn and understand 8th-grade math. 


“My parents soon realized after their first daughter graduated, that the high school, wasn’t so great.”


To get a good education, she would have to go above and beyond what the school asked. 


“That summer was long” my mother concurs, “I often got frustrated at my father.” Her eyes flit across the room, no longer holding eye contact with me. 


At the time, math meant nothing to her. And her hour’s spent learning, and getting ahead in math were all due to her parents. 


Then, she started college at UVM. At the time, she had decided to major in business administration, for the assurance of a good job, and a secure financial future. 

But, by her first Calculus 1 course, her mind was set. “I realized that I had made the wrong decision.” 


She felt like she needed to succeed, so she had gone into a career that would make her parents happy. But that changed when she entered that Calculus class that year in college, from then on she decided to follow her dreams and become a mathematician. Although, she still finished college with a Bachelor of Science in business administration and a doctorate in mathematics. 



“So it’s like a puzzle. And I enjoyed that type of puzzle and once you understand the puzzle, it’s like, oh, it becomes beautiful, how things fit together.” Her hands bolt up to represent two puzzle pieces fitting together, and a grin spreads across her face. 


She finally broke free of these expectations when she found her career. She happily values her dreams and aspirations now and finds joy in the puzzles and problems of math.


Now, she works as a professor at Norwich University after previously teaching at SUNY New Platz, she enjoys different summer projects including the one that got her to D.C. Her job is her highest priority and she has traveled across the U.S. for it.  


“Math is my joy. I wouldn’t change it if I had the chance.”




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