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Undergraduate mathematical biologist earns recognition as School of Life Sciences Outstanding Graduating Senior

May 02, 2013

Imagine holding a shark in your hands while doing research in the Bahamas. Or, picture trekking along the Sierra Nevada mountain range to study the American pika. What would it be like to work with giraffes, monkeys and stingrays at the Phoenix Zoo?

Simply ask Easton White, a graduating senior who embraced many exciting research experiences as an undergraduate at Arizona State University, the only college to which he applied.

The School of Life Sciences is honoring White and his research contributions with its Outstanding Graduating Senior award. White, a biological sciences major with a minor in mathematics, studies animals in some surprising places. His research has taken him from Mexico, California and Arizona, to the Southeastern coast of the U.S. and the Bahamas.

His dream is to apply mathematical and statistical models to marine ecosystems and become a professor of mathematical biology.

“Easton is bright, motivated and incredibly committed to his research activities,” said Leah Gerber, associate professor with the School of Life Sciences and one of White’s research mentors. “He hopes to integrate biology into mathematical models used for the conservation of marine species.”

“I feel honored that School of Life Sciences would acknowledge my accomplishments with this award,” said White. “I certainly owe a lot to my professors, friends and family who helped me get this far in my career.”

White contributes much to the university through leadership, research and outreach. He has submitted three manuscripts to scientific journals and is preparing two more. He is a research fellow and peer mentor in the School of Life Sciences Undergraduate Research Program, a teaching assistant and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Ambassador. White also volunteers at the Center for Native and Urban Wildlife – an organization aimed at restoring open spaces to benefit native wildlife.

Recently, he co-founded an outreach program called “Mathematics Without Boundaries.” The program sends ASU undergraduates into K-12 classrooms to engage young learners in science and mathematics. The organization focuses specifically on teaching concepts that apply mathematics to important biological problems.

A Scottsdale native, he began taking classes at Scottsdale Community College where he learned about research from mentor John Nagy, a faculty associate in the School of Life Sciences and the School of Mathematical & Statistical Sciences. Nagy teaches math and biology at ASU. White and Nagy teamed up to focus on applying mathematical models to better understand the population and evolutionary dynamics of the American pika, as well as lemon sharks. 

White served as vice president of public relations for Phi Theta Kappa and was recognized as Distinguished Officer of 2010. He was nominated for the 2010 All-USA Academic Team and received a scholarship to finish his degree at ASU.

After graduation, White will spend nine months as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Victoria in Canada. From there, he will pursue a doctoral program in theoretical ecology at the University of California, Davis, as a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He will receive his award from the School of Life Sciences on May 10.