A Pattern of Success: Marielle Gardner '19

Marielle Gardner '19

“If you try to see things through a mathematical lens, kind of look around at buildings and even plants, you see the geometry in it: The connections between mathematics and day-to-day life—it's kind of just everywhere,” said Marielle Gardner ’19.  Numerical patterns have always fascinated the recent SMC graduate. “It’s just really cool. You can make pretty things from symbols or draw cool graphs. I am seriously nerding out,” she said, trying to hold back an enthusiastic laugh. “But, it is there. You can see it in spirals, in things as simple as pine cones.”

Gardner’s ardent appreciation for math led her to the Midwest, where she enrolled in an Iowa State University post-baccalaureate program that preps recent undergraduates for graduate studies in mathematics, Gardner says her path toward a doctorate began in Saint Mary’s Integral Program.

“A lot of research begins with defining the question. In the Integral Program, you're pushed to ask questions and to think critically.” Started 64 years ago, the Integrated Liberal Arts Program, affectionately known now as “Integral,” is Saint Mary’s Great Books academic program. In small cohorts, students engage in thoughtful discussion-based classes that examine the primary texts of Western Civilization, covering philosophy, literature, history, theology, politics, economics, music, science, and mathematics.

“We basically look at foundational ideas for what we see today. We learn ancient Greek for the first two years and then we go on to poetry and language,” said Gardner.  “With math, we read Euclid, who laid out basically how we see geometry, and it just keeps going on from there.”

The foundation of Integral has served Gardner well. In addition to excelling as president of the College’s award-winning Macken Debate and Speech Team—where she retired as top 16th nationally—at graduation, the talented 20-year old picked up the School of Liberal Arts’ James L. Hagerty Award for her record of outstanding academic achievement; Integral’s prestigious Saint Thomas Aquinas Award; and with a perfect 4.00 GPA, the De La Salle Award, SMC’s top honor for a graduating senior with the highest record in scholarship and academic excellence.

While her undergraduate achievements were impressive, her Lasallian-influenced future aspirations include earning a PhD and making STEM more inclusive. Gardner’s family’s roots include the indigenous Chamorro peoples of Guam, and she knows what it is like to be among the few women of color in a STEM lab. “There are so many problems in STEM and mathematics in terms of representation. I know that it has been a barrier for me in terms of trying to find communities that I can resonate with.” Thankfully, she notes, she has heard encouragement. “I know one other mathematician from Guam, and I got to meet her back in January. It made me so happy. It gave me a drive to continue going.” 

Gardner’s determination is also rooted in SMC's supportive academic community. “I think the opportunity to be in Integral and math, all of my classes, even with debate, traveling, and learning to be an advocate—I have this network of people that believe in me and that are pushing me, and I just don't think I would be where I am today if it weren't for the community that I was able to build at Saint Mary's.”

Gardner’s efforts have paid off. The SMC alumna was invited to join doctoral programs at ten universities from across the country. In the end, the 2019 Gael decided her next academic chapter will be as a Jayhawk. Gardner joins the University of Kansas this fall after receiving a prestigious Madison and Lila Self Graduate Fellowship where she will pursue her PhD in mathematics.