Matt Simonson’s desire to study and foster greater understanding of how the international community responds to political conflict, genocide, and humanitarian crises has been shaped by his myriad cultural and global experiences.
Simonson is not your typical mathematician. He joined the Network Science Institute to enroll in Northeastern’s Network Science PhD program in 2015. At Northeastern Simonson intertwines quantitative mathematical rigor with the study of political conflict and genocide around the world. As the recipient of the 2016 National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, Simonson is excited at the opportunities this funding will give him to learn more about how and why the world responds to humanitarian crises. In his words, he hopes to “use math to save the world.”
The NDSEG Fellowship is a competitive award sponsored by the Department of Defense that is granted to U.S citizens in doctoral programs. Students in 12 areas of study may apply, including chemistry, physics, medicine, and behavioral science. This award lasts for three years and covers full tuition and a $102,000 stipend. Through encouragement from Kate Coronges, the Network Science Institute Executive Director, and help and support from his advisor, David Lazer, Simonson was well on his way to earning this fellowship for his unique discipline. It was important for him to apply for funding outside of Northeastern in order to give him flexibility in working on his own research projects and to support the Network Science doctoral program.
Simonson’s unique path to Northeastern gives insight to his desire to put a humanitarian twist on a hard science. Simonson graduated from Williams College in Williamstown, MA with a BA in math and international studies. From there, he taught math at Milton Academy in Milton, MA, while also working at the Seeds of Peace International Camp for eight summers. This camp offers a unique opportunity for teenagers from conflict regions to make friends and engage in dialogue with one another, despite having grown up on opposite sides of a violent conflict. With both of his majors satisfied, Simonson didn’t expect to see a way to use them both at the same time.
That is, until he discovered Northeastern’s Network Science program. This unique program works to uncover how complex network systems organize together to solve the problems in many realms of the world including security, public health, and social science. Simonson described it as a way to use his math background to understand any type of network that links people together. In his case, Simonson wanted to focus network science on how the international community responds to humanitarian crises and genocide.
Simonson grew up in the nation’s capital regularly reading world news in The Washington Post and meeting international houseguests of his parents, both of whom worked in government. In high school, he attended rallies at foreign embassies on behalf of political prisoners. As an undergraduate at Williams College, he studied abroad in Mongolia on a self-designed research project to understand how nomads perceived their place in the political landscape. And he spent eight summers in Maine mentoring kids at a summer camp—run by the nongovernmental organization Seeds of Peace—where teenagers from conflict regions including Israel, Palestine, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan as well as the U.S. come together to share their personal experiences and learn from each other through discussions of identity and conflict.