Montana State University

For Zach Dupree, MSU has been all about connections

April 6, 2012 -- By Carol Schmidt, MSU News Service

Zach Dupree is not afraid to ask questions in his studies, his job or his research. A member of the Lakota Sioux-Assiniboine Tribe of Fort Peck, Dupree is part of an MSU team researching similarities between mathematic models of traffic traveling on a single lane road and a stream of polymerases elongating on a DNA strand, with eventual biomedical applications. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
William Zach Dupree says he is never afraid to ask questions, whether it involves how to solve a complex mathematical equation or a request for money for Montana State University.

"One of the best things about MSU is that there are mentors here who are so willing to bend over backward to help you out," said Dupree, a senior from Salmon, Idaho, who is majoring in both mathematics and physics. "You never have to be afraid to ask them questions."

Dupree said his ability to ask questions and seek help, as well as the willingness of the MSU community to provide it, have been keys to his success.

Dupree is a McNair Scholar who aspires to earn a doctorate and become an astrophysics researcher. An enrolled member of the Lakota Sioux-Assiniboine Tribe of Fort Peck, he has helped work his way through school at the MSU Foundation Call Center. While many people would rather have teeth pulled than phone someone cold and ask for money, Dupree enjoys the challenge.

"It has been a very fulfilling job," said Dupree, who is now one of two student supervisors at the call center. "The colleges really do need and use the money we raise there. It's really not hard to do when you know the money we raise for scholarships helps to bring in good students."

Dupree knows firsthand how those scholarships can benefit students.

Like scores of Native American students at MSU, Dupree grew up off the reservation. However, the reservation was key to his upbringing. His mother was a teacher on the Fort Peck Reservation when she met Dupree's father. The Dupree family eventually settled in Salmon, where Zach grew up playing hockey and with a passion for math and science.

In fact, hockey played a small role in how Dupree landed at MSU since he had traveled throughout the state playing hockey.

"So, I knew about MSU and Bozeman," Dupree said. However, when it came time for him to pick a university, MSU's excellent physics program attracted him.

"We have some great scientists here," he said. "It was a good fit for me. Close to home, but just far enough away."

As self-directed as Dupree is, it was a couple of random happenings that have most impacted his time at MSU.

The first was a flier in his freshman residence hall advertising jobs at the MSU Foundation Call Center.

"I needed a job, so I applied." While Dupree said he has had a few unpleasant calls during the four years he has worked there, it is the successes that are most resonant.

"The most exciting nights are when we call for the Bobcat Club, because those donors typically give the most," Dupree said. "The first nights we call them, we usually set records. One night we raised $80,000 in just one night. It was really exciting."

His second important chance encounter was meeting Jim Burns, MSU's former Native American student adviser. While Dupree identifies as Native American, he hadn't yet visited the American Indian Club room when a friend brought Dupree to the center and introduced him to Burns.

"Jim told me that with my academic background, I should apply to be a McNair Scholar," Dupree recalls. It was the first that Dupree heard of the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program, a national initiative that helps students overcome financial, cultural or academic barriers and supports academic success. Students agree to work for a doctorate degree in exchange for mentoring, support and research opportunities.

Shelly Hogan, director of MSU's McNair program, matched Dupree with Lisa Davis, an MSU mathematics professor who is working on a project studying the use of mathematical models related to the cellular process of DNA transcription.

Davis has mentored Dupree as he studies a class of mathematical equations known as hyperbolic partial differential equations. Davis explains that the equations were first proposed as a model for traffic flow in the 1950s, and Dupree's study is part of a group project to find similarities between traffic traveling on a single lane highway and a stream of polymerases elongating on a DNA strand.

Dupree's work is one portion of a larger research project involving faculty members Davis and fellow math professor Tomas Gedeon. Other members are Jennifer Thorenson, a Ph.D. student, and Jakub Gedeon, who is also an undergraduate student. The team's work is to connect the mathematical models to experimental data found in the biological literature.

"As a double major in mathematics and physics, Zach is developing an impressive set of intellectual tools for scientific research and general problem solving," Davis said. The team hopes to publish their findings in a journal in the next year.

Davis said that Dupree is a "conscientious and self-motivated student, and we are very proud of his accomplishments. Zach's involvement in the McNair Scholars Program has allowed him to pursue undergraduate research opportunities that will help to prepare him for success in graduate school as well as in his long-term career goals."

In addition to his work with Davis, Dupree will also be involved with a physics research project beginning this summer. He hopes to apply to graduate schools in astrophysics to study gravitational waves. Dupree said he wouldn't mind if he was accepted at MSU's graduate program.

"I have loved every second I have been here at MSU," he said. "I love the area and being in the mountains, of course. Everything to do with school here has pretty much impressed me."

Lisa Davis (406) 994-5347