Amazing Students Profiles

Adam Molnar

Adam Molnar

Adam Molnar’s passion is helping people understand statistics. Molnar, who has traveled all over the world promoting statistical literacy, is pursuing a doctoral degree in mathematics education.


Salix, Pa. (in the Appalachian Mountains and still without any stoplights)

High School:

Forest Hills High School, Sidman, Pa.

Degree objective:

Ph.D. in mathematics education

Other degrees:

B.A., applied mathematics, Harvard University
M.S., statistics, University of Chicago

Expected graduation:

Spring 2015

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

My passion is statistical literacy, which is helping people comprehend political polls, surveys, medical risk and other factors related to probabilistic information. Not many people study statistics education, which gives me fascinating opportunities around the world.

In July 2012, I had my most unusual experience to date—a North Korea work visa. Statisticians Without Borders, part of the American Statistical Association, organized instructors for a summer institute at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, the only private university in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In addition to the rare opportunity to work with students from a vastly different culture, this was an occasion for engagement through education. I spent two weeks teaching introductory statistics and technical writing. It’s difficult to briefly describe the differences. I will say that I learned a lot from the experience, and I hope it makes me a better statistician and teacher.

UGA professors have been good about scheduling so that I can be active in the international association for statistics education. During my first week of classes, back in August 2011, I flew to Dublin, Ireland for the every-two-year satellite. It was great, even if I felt behind for the first four weeks. In July 2012, before Pyongyang, I participated in the invitational ICOTS roundtable in Cebu City, Philippines. I’m already planning for 2013 in Hong Kong and 2014 in less exotic Flagstaff, Arizona.

I also have projects inside the U.S. A colleague and I wrote a paper on how college mock trial judges evaluate trials. We presented at the 2011 National Communication Association convention in New Orleans. The paper was published in Speaker & Gavel in summer 2012. Also, during the 2012-13 school year, I am serving as president of MESA, the mathematics education student association at UGA.

Current Employment:

I’m a Presidential Graduate Fellow, which means I have a variety of teaching and research assignments related to my field of study. In 2011-12, I was the teaching assistant for both sections of STAT 4/6070, Statistics for Teachers. In 2012-13, I will work on a research team, investigating how middle school students converse with one another during mathematics classes.

Family Ties to UGA:

I am the first member of my family to attend the University of Georgia.

I chose to attend UGA because…

of the quality of the math education faculty and the ability to research statistics education. When I was looking for a place to complete a doctorate in the teaching and learning of statistics, Georgia was mentioned in almost everyone’s top three. Since we don’t have a statistics education program (yet), I looked at the math education department. The math education reputation was the best in America. I wanted to learn from top researchers, so I came here.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

figure out alternate routes to places. (I’m pretty geeky sometimes.) I arrived here in August 2011, and I have a pretty fixed schedule, so I still don’t know many of the buildings. When I have a meeting, I try to figure out either the most efficient way or a way I haven’t gone before. It’s a very statistical computer thing to do, finding many ways from A to B—it’s like a small MapQuest.

When I have free time, I like…

to travel. I flew 89,000 miles in 2011. This year should be over 60,000. It’s not cheap; I saved a bunch of money and miles from my last job so I could take these trips. Part of that travel is for international education conferences, but most is to see wonders and gain experience with unfamiliar cultures.

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

promotional work for a trading card company. For the Lord of the Rings movie openings, I dressed in a Gandalf costume and handed out free prizes. You can’t be shy in that line of work!

My favorite place to study is…

my apartment. It’s the only place I can set out a couch full of books as I write a paper.

My favorite professor is…

from the class professors I’ve taken, Jeremy Kilpatrick. (This way I’m not forced to pick between Jennifer Kaplan and Chris Franklin, the fabulous statistics education professors for whom I’ve worked.) Of the classes I had, his was the best because it was straightforward. We learned how to read academic research articles by reading many. One doesn’t need an assortment of fancy activities to teach a good class—we never even opened PowerPoint. Consistency and repetition made things work. After his class, I understood the introductions, research questions, strengths and weaknesses of academic authorship. I’ve become a better academic writer because of him.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

Nelson Mandela. After the end of apartheid in 1990, South Africa could easily have become a failed state. Though it’s still struggling, its strength, possibly even its survival, is due to his leadership more than anyone else. His focus on unity, reconciliation and development made things work. I’m not that good of a leader, but I’d like to be, and so I’d want any advice he could offer.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

start a movie company that makes screwball romantic comedies. Many of my favorite movies are comedies from the Great Depression, such as “It Happened One Night” and “The Philadelphia Story.” Humor doesn’t have to be crude and vulgar, and it can involve people that one might want to emulate. For instance, screwball comedies usually had thoughtful decent men and self-confident, witty women. Why not have more of them?

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

fund my own research. When the jackpot was over $500 million, I bought a Mega Millions ticket. (It wasn’t that un-statistical an investment, because the expected value was about 95 cents.) I thought about what I’d do if I won. Sure, I’d travel more and live in a better place than my two-room apartment, and maybe I’d buy a beachfront apartment in San Diego. But I really like what I do, enough to keep doing it even if I had lots of money. It would just be much, much easier without the need for grant support.

After graduation, I plan to…

work as a teacher of statistics and researcher on statistics. It’s what I do.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

the tennis ball assignment. My dastardly abstract algebra professor assigned a problem to mathematically describe the set of symmetries of a tennis ball. This is not simple, so my study group became inventive. Patty numbered sides. Pierre tried computer simulation. I cut open a ball to make reflections easier. Hwa Young drew a page of little tennis balls so we could draw figures as they changed. It’s not that I learned much from the question, but the craziness of the solution paths made us laugh quite a lot.