Nontraditional student is first grad of transdisciplinary math program
As a child, Andrea Feiler’s favorite toys were her microscope and telescope. She dreamed of becoming a scientist. Then, as a college student at Glendale Community College, she took a calculus class and discovered a passion for mathematics.
Torn between the life sciences and math, Feiler found a way to combine them in Arizona State University’s applied mathematics for the life and social sciences track. Last month, she became the first graduate of the innovative undergraduate program.
The 44 year old excelled at the transdisciplinary curriculum that focuses on understanding mathematical theory and using techniques like computational methods and mathematical modeling to solve real-world problems in areas such as health and the environment.
“I think this degree reflects that I understand the interconnectedness of the natural world and can utilize a transdisciplinary approach through my research,” explained Feiler, who is a math tutor working primarily with special needs children and returning adult students.
Feiler also volunteers at Liberty Wildlife, an avian rescue and rehabilitation organization. Though she enjoys caring for orphaned nestlings, she is currently engaged with the medical services division, which allows her the opportunity to work first-hand with birds affected by endemic and emerging diseases, the area she pegs as her research specialization.
At ASU, Feiler did phylogenetic analysis regarding Trichomonas gallinae and performed a study of its infection rates in doves. Her capstone project was based on a previous study of hers on the release rates of rescued immature grackles. She examined the factors that might have contributed to the differences, such as availability of resources, exposure to disease, brood reduction and human intervention.
Jose Lobo, associate research professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and Feiler’s capstone project advisor, was impressed by her abilities and character. “I found Andrea to be not only smart and diligent – which, after all, are expected characteristics of a college student – but also fearless in her willingness to tackle advanced results and engage in sophisticated mathematical reasoning,” he said.
Feiler advises students entering the undergraduate applied math program to discover their research niche as early as possible to make their educational path smoother. She added, “Also, as long as you have completed the first two years of the program, don’t be afraid to take classes that are cross-listed as graduate level. Yes, they are challenging but well worth the effort. They allow you to truly appreciate the transdisciplinary approach this program espouses.”
Feiler plans to do field work this summer and enter graduate school in the fall. This spring, she is taking an applied math course and continuing her research with Lobo on T. gallinae. She believes that further exploration of its role in avian parasite-prey-predator relationships may lead to a better understanding of food-borne diseases in general.