University of Vermont

Barbara Dewey

Undergraduate student, math major

Barbara Dewey in one of the computer labs

Barbara Dewey's dark eyes grow guarded when you ask about her summer internship. In answer, the senior math major produces a scrap of paper and reads only the cryptic words that she helped create a "tool that will aid in the exploitation of target systems."

If her behavior seems clandestine, it should.

Dewey spent her summer at an elite government intelligence operation, the National Security Agency (NSA), in Fort Meade, Md., one of only 24 math majors from around the country selected by the NSA for its prestigious Director's Summer Program.

Dewey needed a top security clearance for the position and cannot deviate from the NSA-approved description of her work. But she can speak freely about some aspects of the internship: that she briefed the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the student team's project, was treated and paid like a real staff member, and helped create a real intelligence tool currently in use.

Studying with the stars

Dewey's stellar math record, along with the problem solving abilities she demonstrated at an NSA interview, helped her win a spot in the ultra-selective program.

But a recommendation written by one of her professors, Richard Foote — co-author with UVM colleague Dave Dummit of a much-admired advanced algebra textbook — didn't hurt. When Dewey introduced herself on her first day at NSA, her technical director exclaimed, "You're the one who had Richard Foote write your recommendation."

"People in the field know the math professors at UVM," Dewey says, also mentioning Jeff Dinitz, whose "Dinitz Conjecture" merits a Wikipedia entry. "I'm getting personal attention from some pretty major math stars," the kind who can open doors for their students, even top-secret ones.

Last modified January 07 2013 03:43 PM