McCartney Scholars: Creating a Legacy Through Math

There are countless places the study of math might lead. On a recent rainy Wednesday morning, it led a group of Rivers students to Gillette Stadium, where the current cohort of McCartney Scholars met with members of the Kraft Analytics Group (KAGR) to learn about the use of data science in the sports and entertainment industries.

The McCartney Scholars program, now in its third year, is an endowed program of distinction that provides extraordinary opportunities in math scholarship and mentorship for selected students. It was created in memory of Rivers math teacher Dan McCartney, who passed away unexpectedly in January 2020. McCartney was an inspiration to innumerable students, with his upbeat attitude, inclusive approach, and unshakeable faith in “finding the good” in any situation. 

The scholars are chosen at the end of their sophomore year and continue with the program through grades 11 and 12. This year, said math faculty member Victoria Mizzi, who oversees the program, 21 applications were received for up to six spots. An interest in math is assumed, of course, but beyond that, said Mizzi, she looks at such factors as engagement and enthusiasm when selecting each cohort of McCartney Scholars. The program includes a community engagement component, as each student must complete a capstone project that allows them to share their love of math with others at Rivers and to use math to look at issues affecting Rivers students.

Mizzi said that the program has evolved over the past few years, reflecting both the interests of the particular student participants and the changing role of math in various fields and pursuits. “It’s been interesting. Each new class of scholars has its own personality, so what I do changes year to year,” said Mizzi. Moreover, she said, the shifting professional landscape means “you have to be a chameleon in how you use your problem-solving skills. I think to really engage with math in the 21st century, you also have to engage with computer science and programming, machine learning, and AI.” But again, she noted, the field is ever-evolving: “Today, AI is the big topic, but it might be something different two years from now.”

Hearing from guest speakers and meeting with professionals in the field are key components of the program. In the fall, Anna Littman-Quinn ’08 met with the group on campus to talk about her work as a senior manager of forensic and integrity services at EY (formerly Ernst & Young). 

“This is my second year presenting to the McCartney Scholars program, and both times I have left the presentation energized by the students' excitement and interest in the topic,” said Littman-Quinn. “I wish a program like this had existed during my time at Rivers, as it allows students interested in math to be introduced to the various career opportunities that await them.”

At the Kraft Analytics Group presentation, CEO Jess Gelman joined the students via Zoom in a high-tech conference room at the stadium. Several other KAGR team members attended in person. They spoke about the use of data and analytics in informing the fan experience and shaping how the NFL and other clients approach customer retention, attendance and revenue forecasting, and other quantifiable aspects of their work. 

“Sports is really fun and people are passionate about it,” said Gelman. A lifelong fan, she said, “Being on the other side of that now and helping the teams, we get to see a wide swath of the challenges.”

And data is an increasingly important tool for tackling those challenges. “Clients are getting smarter about using data to improve their business,” said KAGR senior consulting analyst Alyssa Harris. The students asked thoughtful questions about Gelman’s experience as a female CEO, about how to deal with a project that doesn’t go as planned, and about how they convince clients that they need the help that KAGR provides, among other topics. 

As for pursuing a career in data analytics, Gelman had some advice that’s broadly applicable. “I had no idea I’d end up doing this when I was your age,” she told the students. “I encourage you to start where you are, and find out what you like along the way. Pursue the things that interest you; everything else should come from that.”

Unmistakably, math is among the things that interest these students. Asked why she joined the McCartney Scholars program, Shelby Whitaker ’24 said, “I have always loved math and working with numbers. I love how the McCartney Scholars program has allowed me to be part of a group of people who love math as much as I do.”

As a scholar, Camille DeStefano ’24 is excited about becoming “more involved with the math community at Rivers and engaging with the Rivers community about math.” She’s looking forward to her senior project, which she hopes to connect to the Rivers athletics program. 

The scholars are mindful of their debt to McCartney. “I was interested in becoming a McCartney Scholar because I wanted to partake in Mr. McCartney’s legacy,” said Taylor Ehler ’25. “He was the person who truly introduced me to Rivers, after speaking with me and my family during an open house. I hope to ‘find the good’ in everything I participate in.”

Mizzi, who considered McCartney an important mentor, said that she appreciates the fact that the current scholars still remember the late teacher, although few of them knew him well. “It’s important to remember he is really the reason we’re doing this,” she said. “Passing along his enthusiasm is paramount, and my goal is that we’re somehow keeping his legacy alive.”
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