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Teen noted for 'impossible' math proof is attending Xavier University of Louisiana

(Xavier University of Louisiana)

Ne’Kiya Jackson, one of two New Orleans high schoolers recently noted globally for a new proof of the Pythagorean theorem, is now attending the nation’s Catholic HBCU, Xavier University of Louisiana.

The school announced the news in August, following a flurry of news coverage and social media attention this year concerning Jackson and Calcea Rujean Johnson. The two were classmates at St. Mary’s Academy, a historic Black Catholic high school founded by Venerable Henriette DeLille.

Jackson recently spoke with XULA in an interview concerning their historic achievement, recognized publicly by the American Mathematical Society, and her decision to attend the school to study pharmacy. She noted that the proof, which used trigonometry to prove the 4,000-year-old geometric equation (a2 + b2 = c2), was not intended to be known widely.

“I was very surprised. I didn’t think people would be that interested, especially in math,” she said. Jackson also explained why she is moving on to a new field—apparently following the motto of her new school, ‘Press forward and fear nothing,’ from its foundress, St. Katharine Drexel

“[The math proof] will be more of just an anecdote because while doing that was very nice, and I had a great time, I don’t think math is really my calling.”

After spending “three to four hours a day” working on their proof, the two teenagers presented it at an academic conference this spring in Atlanta, which quickly rocketed them to international attention for what St. Mary's Academy called “unprecedented research.”

Jackson and Johnson were soon commended by Gov. John Bel Edwards and former First Lady Michelle Obama, interviewed on ABC News’ national broadcast in late March, and received online coverage of their work garnering millions of views within a matter of weeks.

Jackson, part of a St. Mary's Academy graduating class with 100% college acceptance and $10M in scholarships, first announced in July her plans to attend XULA. The school is approaching 100 years of service as a uniquely Black and Catholic institution of higher education. Classes for the 2023-24 academic year began on August 21.

The school, founded by St. Katharine and her Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, has long been known for producing an outsize number of STEM graduates and professionals. It has been ranked as one of the top 50 schools in the nation for the field and produces more Black medical school graduates than any in the country.

Jackson, a New Orleans native who received keys to the city alongside Johnson in April, plans to study in the Contingent Admit Program for Xavier’s College of Pharmacy. The program involves two years of undergraduate study before matriculation into the Doctor of Pharmacy program. Her classmate will study environmental engineering at Louisiana State University.

Jackson says the new proof, which had been spoken of as “impossible,” can serve as an inspiration and a monumental moment for positive representation.

“It might inspire other people to try more STEM-related activities, even if they are young,” she said. 

“I want people to know that being young is not a barrier to achieving great things. Nothing is impossible. You can really do anything you set your mind to.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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