Cora Casteel can’t stop studying math – even as she plans to become a police officer.
Casteel ’19 earned her bachelor’s degree in math with a minor in criminal justice, taking four graduate math classes during her senior year that she can also apply toward her master’s degree in probability and statistics. She says it will help her in her future career.
“I really enjoy math. It’s challenging, but rewarding, because it builds on itself,” she says. “Math teaches you how to think, how to problem-solve and how to tackle issues logically, all of which help you as a police officer.”
Casteel grew up in Waltham and was home-schooled by her mother until she reached high school. Then she took classes as a dual-enrollment student at Middlesex Community College in Bedford, earning her associate degree over four years. There, she joined the Commonwealth Honors Program for its small, discussion-based classes and intensive research projects.
“I was able to explore a lot of subjects: math, criminal justice and graphic design,” she says.
As she was finishing up at Middlesex, she met with UML Math Prof. James Graham-Eagle and decided to complete her college degree as an honors student at UMass Lowell.
Casteel immediately applied for an honors student fellowship to work as a constituent services intern in former Congresswoman Niki Tsongas’ district office. She enjoyed helping people, and she gained a deeper appreciation of how laws and policies affect people’s lives.
She followed that experience with a summer internship at the Acton Police Department, working in the records office and going out on patrol with the officers. It was love at first ride-along. Now she wants to work as a small-town police officer and then, perhaps, move into criminal justice policy.
Casteel is already on her way. She combined math and criminal justice in her honors capstone project, a global analysis of drug-related deaths in 50 countries to see whether greater availability of illicit drugs correlated with higher death rates and whether stricter drug laws reduced deaths. 
Her honors advisor was Prof. James Byrne, associate chairman of the School of Criminology and Justice Studies, but her math professors also helped her with the statistical analyses. She loved having the opportunity to work on a research question of her own choosing – with guidance.
“My professors wanted to help me every step of the way,” she says.
As for the results? 
“I found a lot of opportunities for further research.”