Mathematics student accepted into prestigious international program

Contact: Amelia Bodinaku

KALAMAZOO, MICH — Garrett Nichols, a 19-year-old senior at Western Michigan University, is taking his love for mathematics international with his acceptance into the prestigious Budapest Semesters in Mathematics (BSM) program — a first for a WMU student. 

 writes on a chalk board.

Garrett Nichols

Nichols' path to this achievement began with a simple suggestion from a friend after a Math Club meeting, sparking his curiosity about the program. With the guidance of faculty mentors, he crafted his application, ultimately securing his place among the elite cohort of students accepted into the program.

For Nichols, the upcoming semester in Budapest represents an exciting chapter in his academic journey. And as a rising senior while still a teenager, his journey has been anything but ordinary. In high school, he dedicated himself to his studies, taking countless AP and dual enrollment courses; earning over 60 credit hours by the time he got to Western. 

“This was hard to balance, but I’ve always loved pushing myself,” he says. “I am quite comfortable building a schedule, working one or two part time jobs, and maintaining some semblance of a social life.” 

Upon arrival at Western, he became well-versed in degreeWorks and used campus resources to develop his schedule, allowing him to build an academic plan that fit his speeds and interests. 

“Western has been very encouraging to keep up my accelerated path. The faculty at Western have been very keen on answering my questions and directing me to people to help optimize my path,” he says. 

Having excelled in mathematics throughout high school and University, he looks forward to the challenges of BSM. 

"My biggest priority is getting as much as I can academically out of it as possible," says Nichols. “I'm going to be in a classroom full of MIT and Harvard kids. No one there is going to be bad at math. I will be one of the ‘worst’ in the room, and that prospect is exciting.”

The BSM program, open exclusively to top North American students, is renowned for its rigorous curriculum and emphasis on problem-solving, creative thinking and a discovery-based approach to learning mathematics. Participants have the rare chance to study alongside esteemed Hungarian scholars and immerse themselves in the rich mathematical tradition of the region.

Dr. Melinda Koelling, chair of the WMU Department of Mathematics, recognizes the transformative potential of this experience. 

“There's an opportunity to blossom as a student of math,” says Koelling. “To learn this higher level math and to understand how this kind of pedagogy works as a student, I think those will be the building blocks for his career.” 

To support his studies in Budapest, Nichols has received the Linda Lesniak International Study Scholarship in Mathematics or Mathematics Education. This scholarship is funded by Dr. Linda Lesniak, a WMU alumna and adjunct faculty member, and her husband. Lesniak is a close friend of Paul Erdös, the noted mathematician behind the BSM program.

Lesniak emphasizes that “nothing else is like this” program, and that BSM is the only place math students can go to study math abroad without losing a semester of academics back home. 

Reflecting on her own mathematical journey, Lesniak recognizes that the cost of BSM may be a deterrent for prospective applicants—which is why she prioritizes supporting attendees through her scholarship. 

“If I had been that student, I would have needed a lot of financial help,” says Lesniak. “I decided that if I had a Budapest student, I would definitely help them.”

The Department of Mathematics is also matching Lesniak’s contribution. 

"I'm very thankful for Dr. Lesniak and the math department as a whole," says Nichols. "Everyone here has been very supportive in talking to me about math and aiding my curiosity." 

Approaching his final year as an undergraduate at Western, Nichols is looking ahead, applying to graduate programs and thinking about his future career. He recognizes that his studies at BSM, equivalent to graduate-level coursework, will not only challenge him academically but also highlight the intensity of his education and his ability to succeed. 

As Nichols prepares to depart for Budapest in early August, he reflects on his journey and offers advice to other aspiring students: “Keep setting big goals, but when those goals aren’t realized, don’t let that tear you down but let that motivate you further. Keep pushing forward, and sometimes look back just to see how far you've come. And good luck to everyone pursuing what they love.”

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