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Featured Alumna

Barbara Dewey Abbott

  Barb Dewey Abbott

Our Featured Alumna, Barbara Dewey Abbott, (class of 2009) works as an Actuarial Analyst for Milliman, Inc., in San Diego, California, one of the top consulting firms in the nation. How did she get such a prestigious position?

Originally from Highgate, VT, Barb has UVM in her blood.  Her father, Douglas Dewey, graduated from UVM in 1984 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. Says Barb, "My love of math definitely comes from my father – I remember when he would help me with Calculus using what he had learned at UVM." Barb’s first experience with the UVM College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences was MATHCOUNTS, where, as an 8th-grader, she competed in the Northwest Competition. She went on to compete in the State MATHCOUNTS Competition which are organized by UVM faculty and supported by CEMS. Barbara later coached her brother’s team for MATHCOUNTS during her junior and senior year at Missisquoi Valley Union High School (MVU). At MVU, her mathematics abilities were cultivated by Ferdinand Lauffer, her Calculus teacher, who had earned a Master’s Degree in Statistics from the University of Vermont.

Feeling connected to UVM and finally arriving on campus, she continued building her knowledge of mathematics and statistics through UVM courses on her way toward earning a B.S. in Mathematics.  Her love of all things mathematical even yielded her another prize; in her 1st year during a Calculus II class taught by Tom Rogers, her advisor, she met Geoff Abbott. "It was love at first sight, for me anyway," says Barb. "We began dating a year later and were married in 2008 at the Catholic Center at UVM.

Being Proactive

In January 2007, Barbara attended a math conference in San Diego, California. This deepened her connection to the mathematical sciences and spurred her to search the web for summer opportunities where she discovered the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Director’s Summer Program in Washington DC. As a junior she applied and was selected for the prestigious Director’s Summer Program. Together with 24 other students, she obtained a top-secret security clearance and worked on real-world applications of mathematics.  For twelve weeks, she and her team worked together to create a tool to aid in the exploitation of target systems – to help break codes.

Fate continued to smile on Abbott when Jennifer Leach, a UVM graduate working at Milliman, sent an email inquiry to Professor Jeffrey Dinitz asking for prospective students for an internship at the Milliman’s South Burlington, Vermont office. Abbott was selected.

"I was very impressed with Milliman, especially the effort that their employees put into every project," says Barb. "I had not planned to work in the business world, but the internship at Milliman changed my mind." When she first made a claims triangle, which is part of the process to determine the amount of assettes a company must keep fluid to cover its losses, she realized she was modeling data and using statistics in a real world application – and she loved it.

She interviewed in March 2009 with Milliman in San Diego and was hired for a full-time position beginning July 2009. Barbara and Geoff packed the car and drove cross-country, through the corn fields of Nebraska, to San Diego, California. Geoff, a 2008 UVM graduate with a degree in mathematics, spends his days developing prototypes for networking and crypto systems as a Development Engineer for Anonymizer in San Diego, California.This builds off his experience as an intern with IBM in Essex, Vermont where he developed two processes which have patents pending.

Geoff works at Anonymizer with Charley Robinson, a 2008 computer science UVM graduate. Their story will be featured in an upcoming SPIRE issue.  "People in the field know the math professors at UVM," says Abbott. Having recommendations from instructors like Jeff Dinitz, whose "Dinitz Conjecture" merits a Wikipedia entry, and Richard Foote, co-author with UVM colleague Dave Dummit of a much-admired advanced algebra textbook -- also didn’t hurt.

Her Legacy at UVM

Along with fellow Mathematics graduate, John Wiechecki, Barb’s interest in the insurance field spurred the Department of Mathematics and Statistics to develop curriculum which would better prepare students for the actuarial exams.

"Barb has greatly helped the development of a proposed certificate of actuarial studies by providing information about what students need for the profession and by sharing her experience of what classes at UVM were helpful in preparing her for the exams she’s taken so far," says Doug Dickey, Assistant Dean of CEMS, and lecturer, in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

"Barbara Dewey Abbott reflects the excellence found within CEMS graduates," says Tom Rogers, "Her hard work makes her a role model for other students within our College." When asked about Barb’s status in class, Dr. Jeffrey Dinitz replied, "She was quiet, but she distinguished herself with her performance in my Number Theory class."

Barb’s Advice

"What I am doing now is definitely not what I thought I would be doing if you had asked me five years ago," says Barb, "I believe I’ve been able to be successful because I was open to things outside the envelope of what I’d pictured."

Truly Barb’s stellar math record and problem solving abilities opened doors for her -- including some top-secret ones!