Alumni Awards 2017: Lauren Mazzoli ’15, Mathematics and Computer Science, and M.S. ’17, Computer Science

In the weeks leading up to the Alumni Awards Ceremony, we’ll be profiling each honoree in more detail here on our blog. Today, meet Lauren Mazzoli ’15, mathematics and computer science, and M.S. ’17, computer science, systems engineer at Northrop Grumman and this year’s recipient of the Rising Star award for outstanding graduates of the last decade.

Lauren Mazzoli

As a young woman studying in a traditionally male-dominated field, Lauren Mazzoli ’15, mathematics and computer science, and M.S. ’17, computer science, has faced her share of challenges. “There were numerous times where I could have felt overwhelmed or defeated” by the gender ratio in STEM, she writes, “but instead, I was driven to change it.” That drive has led her into a promising career as a cyber software engineer at Northrop Grumman, as well as an advocate and mentor to female engineers at both her workplace and her alma mater. A former Cyber Scholar, Mazzoli has remained involved with both that program and the Center for Women in Technology (CWIT), helping to organize career development and educational opportunities for students interested in cybersecurity. At Northrop Grumman, Mazzoli earned early accolades for her support of a time-sensitive, mission-critical project. She was recently accepted into the company’s 3-year Future Technical Leaders rotational program, and is also Vice Chair of the Women’s Employee Resource Group. Mazzoli was inspired to attend UMBC by its “friendly campus, diversity of thought, and students hungry to learn,” and she credits Dr. Marie desJardins, Dr. Penny Rheingans, and Dr. Anupam Joshi for their inspiration and support on her path through the cybersecurity field.

Join us for the Alumni Awards Ceremony on Thursday, October 5!

Roundup: UMBC in the News

One of the things that makes UMBC great is how wonderful our alumni, students, faculty, and staff are. Because of these amazing people, UMBC often finds itself “in the news,” so each week, we’ll be sharing with you a round-up of the most newsworthy achievements from our community.

For more campus community news, visit UMBC Insights!

Roundup: UMBC in the News

One of the things that makes UMBC great is how wonderful our alumni, students, faculty, and staff are. Because of these amazing people, UMBC often finds itself “in the news,” so each week, we’ll be sharing with you a round-up of the most newsworthy achievements from our community.

Opportunities through Robotics: Kavita Krishnaswamy ’07

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with Kavita Krishnaswamy ’07, mathematics and computer science. Krishnaswamy has spinal muscular atrophy and has not been able to leave her house in six years. Thanks to Beam Telepresence Technology, a robotic program that allows her to remotely view and navigate spaces through her computer screen, she’s presented her doctoral thesis and attended conferences across the country. The current Ph.D. student talks about her experience with the Beam and her research on robotics and accessibility.

KrishnaswamyQ: What’s your most memorable experience/moment at UMBC?

UMBC is a journey to fulfill, not a destination to complete. Every day was a day to remember with milestones to accomplish, wisdom to be learned, and experiences to cherish. The accumulation of my UMBC experiences has molded (and continues to mold me) for the real-world. I am so grateful that each and every experience I encountered has brought me to my place now.

One of my favorite experiences was to go to the seventh floor of the library to study and look out the bow window on a pleasant view of the entire campus. Viewing outside the window often filled with positive energy and reminded me to appreciate the everyday journey and have the perspective to soar to great heights by overcoming obstacles and promoting feelings of humility relative to the grandeur and glory of Mother Nature.

Q: How has your life changed since using the Beam telepresence robot?

I have a more active and busy lifestyle since using the Beam. I am traveling all over the world to conferences, meetings, museums, concerts, and other attractions with the Beam. Meeting new people and networking to make new contacts has been productive to advancing my research and career goals.

Q: What do you see in the future for robotic technology and how it changes the way people interact?

The future is here now! Robotics technologies will become ubiquitous as time moves forward for the benefit of humanity. Ultimately, the quality of life will improve for all.

Q: Can you tell me more about your current work?

My research involves the development of robotic systems to provide assistance and increase independence for people with disabilities. I am developing several prototype robotic systems that will support transferring, repositioning, and personal care, with a focus on accessible user interfaces for control that are feasible for persons with severe disabilities. For example, I am investigating the use of brain computer interfaces, speech recognition, and facial gestures to control a robotic interface for repositioning the arms of users with disabilities to strengthen their muscles and relieve pressure on the joints.

Q: What are your plans after graduate school?

It is the blessing of continuing education that excites me. I will always continue learning. Within the next 10 years, I will have my PhD degree, be married to [the] man I love, have a happy and healthy child, be successfully employed as a professor and researcher, have my own home, invent a number of assistive devices and robotic technologies that help increase independence for people with disabilities, make my parents proud, and be thanking God for bringing all of my dreams into reality. In all aspects, I want to be successful and do the best that I possibly can to overcome adversities that may stand against my way.

Read more about Kavita and her research!

Alums in the News: Quipeles, Richardson, McMullen, Steininger

Congratulations to these UMBC alums whose accomplishments have been recognized both inside and outside of UMBC. Take a moment to read what they have been up to!

via Inquirer.net
photo via Inquirer.net

The Kennedy Center recently hosted a benefit performance called “After the Storm” in support of the survivors of typhoon Haiyan, the strongest recorded typhoon to ever hit the Philippines. Gretchen Quipeles ‘14, health administration and public policy, attended the event and praised its success. “It’s exciting to see the Filipino community come together in that one room seeing a great act, raising money for typhoon Haiyan,” she told Inquirer.net. Read the full story here.

While Prince George’s county may not be known for academic success, Dr. Hrabowski and Donald Richardson ‘14, mathematics, discussed how engaging students in a cooperative community provides a supportive background for black students. “[UMBC] was a big transition from public school, where everybody was trying to make it on their own,” said Richardson to The Washington Post. Find more here.

kylacroppKyla McMullen ‘05, computer science, the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in computer science, knew there was something missing from a Business Insider list of the 50 sexiest scientists when she noticed no African-American women were featured. “If the current generation is going to be engaged in scientific careers, we need to dispel the stereotypical image of a scientist as being a white, glasses wearing, socially-inept nerd,” said McMullen in one of her articles. “Business Insider went one step in this direction, but not far enough.” She decided to fill this void by creating her own list of sexy, black, female scientists. You can find it on her website.

ethan2
photo via Compared Care

After an operation left a friend’s dad $40,000 in debt, Ethan Steininger ‘14, health administration and policy, started a website called Compared Care. It allows users to compare the prices of medical professionals based on what the patient is looking for before having the exam or operation. “You don’t know what you’re getting [charged] until after you get it,” said Steininger to Technical.ly Baltimore, and his website is made to help users find the best medical attention they can afford. Read more here.

A Mathematical Mind: Kimball Martin ’99

“But Mom, when am I going to use all this math stuff anyway?”

For parents, it’s a frequent refrain from kids of all ages, and sometimes in the age of spreadsheets and computer desktop calculators, it’s a question that’s as tough to answer as sample problems from the math section of the SAT.

But don’t say that to Kimball Martin ’99, who has turned his inquisitive nature and love of challenges into a robust career as an assistant professor of mathematics specializing in number theory.

“Math is not about numbers, but about ideas and problem solving,” he said. “Doing math helps you learn how to think and solve problems in general. As all of us have to deal with problems or make decisions constantly, I believe mathematicians constantly use their mathematical experience in daily life.”

“Two of my friends have at some point run their own construction businesses,” said Martin. “The first was an engineer, and was quite good at math, but the other was not so strong. The first one told me about how he used trigonometry all the time, to figure out things like how many steps and what size they would need, or how long they should cut beams for the roof, and it was very easy and efficient.

“The other friend said they climb up on the roof and measure how long the beams should be, or experiment to see how many steps are needed, and as a result it took him and his crew much longer to finish their job. I believe having some proficiency in mathematics often comes up in surprising ways down the road. After all, life is full of surprises.”

Martin, a former Goldwater Fellow, was known for always pushing onward to the next challenge during his time at UMBC. A native of Mechanicsburg, Penn., he took college courses while still in high school and consistently surprised his UMBC professors with his desire to take and excel in advanced level courses. He went on to get his Ph.D. from Cal Tech, did his post-doc work at Columbia University and is now an assistant professor of math at the University of Oklahoma.

Martin specializes in the study of prime numbers – numbers such as 2, 5, 7 and 13, which are divisible only by one and themselves. “They’re a fundamental building block of arithmetic. There’s no apparent pattern to them. Somehow primes occur seemingly randomly but they also display statistical patterns.”

Martin initially wanted to be a visual art and computer science major as a freshman, but then settled into a double major in computer science and math. “By my junior year, I began to realize that most of the things I liked in computer science were the math aspects of it,” he said.

He interned at the National Security Agency for a summer, and was encouraged by the support and mentorship he received from the math department. “The math department here was small so I got to interact a lot with faculty. I spent most of my days here in the department, made a lot of friends there and in the dorms and apartments.”

To Martin, mathematics is a discipline that combines elements of art and science. While a math career may not be for everyone, to Martin there are certain traits essential for success in the field.

“You need curiosity, creativity and courage to be a mathematician,” he said. “Curiosity is first because mathematics is about understanding and discovering new things. Creativity, which is something that seems very mystical to me, is what allows us to see the new in things. Finally, courage is needed because math is not always easy. In fact, the interesting math is almost never easy.”

Martin recalls a particular homework problem from his post-doc days, which was assigned by his mentor, adjunct faculty member John Dillon. “Once you started, your formulas just started getting worse and worse, and you couldn’t see any way out of this hole you were getting yourself into. One of the students the class it was due said he couldn’t get it, he just wound up with these horrific equations, and Dillon said ‘Be brave. You have to be brave. If you just keep going, you’ll get the answer in the end.’ And he was right. I encounter and struggle with this sort of thing all the time in research.”

Martin is quick to point out that “A Beautiful Mind”-style stereotypes of the brilliant mathematician with poor social skills isn’t the reality. “Most of us are relatively normal with a slight tendency towards thoughtfulness,” said Martin. “Plus I like to play jokes,” he said. “I once hid live crabs in someone’s office. I had accomplices, though. I didn’t act alone.”

So what is the answer for the teenager who doubts that he or she will ever use this stuff?

According to Martin, math is like any other subject: you get out what you put in.

“Beyond basic arithmetic and algebra, most people probably won’t use what they learn in the textbooks after school. However, most college students don’t use the contents of their courses in their subsequent jobs either. Nevertheless, during the process of going through the course and learning the material and doing the assignments, I firmly believe you learn much more than what’s in the book. Furthermore, you often do use the content of a course in later courses in school, whose value is not to be underestimated.

Martin closed his interview with wise words for students of any subject. “If you treat one class as a waste of your time, then your subsequent classes will also be a waste of time, because you won’t be able receive what your teachers have to offer.”

– Chip Rose
Originally posted July 2008