Where They’re Headed: Ben Mackay ’20

A participant in Haverford and Caltech’s joint 3-2 engineering program, the mathematics major and environmental studies minor has finished his Caltech education and is now developing climate change models.

Ben Mackay ‘20, having recently completed his second year at the California Institute of Technology as part of a “3-2” five-year engineering program with Haverford, is ready to put his prolific education to use. After having spent three years studying mathematics and environmental studies at Haverford, and two years obtaining an applied and computational math degree with an environmental studies and engineering minor from Caltech, he is now looking forward to a future as a member of the Schmidt Academy of Software Engineering at Caltech.

“The program pairs scholars with Caltech research groups, with the goal of improving the quality of scientific software tools on campus. I’ll be working with the Climate Modeling Alliance (CliMA), which is building a new, data-driven climate model,” Mackay said. “As a whole, CliMA takes on intense challenges in software, computation, data science, applied math, and physics. So far, I’ve worked primarily with the mathematical software tools that we use to solve differential equations describing Earth’s physics. I’ve also continued my research in microphysics from last year. My weeks are a good balance between programming and background reading in software, math, or science. The Schmidt program also has an educational component, so I and my peers will be studying with Caltech computer science faculty to become strong, effective software engineers.”

Though he had begun working with CliMA over the previous year as he independently researched cloud microphysics, his time at the Schmidt Academy will largely be a new experience for him. Mackay said that he is particularly excited to step into this new environment to meet more likeminded Schmidt Scholars, fellow researchers, and role models.

CliMA’s work, which involves all of Earth’s systems and their interactions, focuses on formulating models of Earth’s physics for computers to solve. Mackay credits Haverford with laying the groundwork for his studies in software, applied math, data science, and physics.

“My coursework, research, and time as a TA also allowed me to practice essential communication skills, scientific and otherwise, that will enable me to be an effective team member,” he said.

Having spent extensive time as a major in the Haverford math department, Mackay is thankful that the department provided him with such a welcoming environment to learn and grow, saying that he really missed his peers once he left for California, noting, “not having a senior year with them all was tough!” 

He gave special thanks to J. McLain King 1928 Professor in Mathematics Josh Sabloff and Professor of Mathematics and Statistics Lynne Butler.

“Through their classes and mentorship—personal, academic, and professional—both pushed me hard and helped me to recognize my own growth as a student, gain confidence in myself, and become comfortable asking questions,” said Mackay, who plans to eventually pursue a Ph.D. in environmental science.

In the meantime, he is gaining experience and growing in proficiency as a software engineer, mathematician, researcher, and environmental scientist.