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PhD graduate celebrates a bright future in applied mathematics

Headshot of ASU PhD candidate Marina Mancuso

Marina Mancuso graduated from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences with a PhD in applied mathematics.

December 14, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2023 graduates.

Marina Mancuso is graduating this December with a PhD in applied mathematics from The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Arizona State University.

The Cleveland native was drawn to ASU because of its collaborative environment among students, including a particular sense of community and belonging within the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences. 

“I was also excited to get away from the cold and snowy winters in Ohio,” admitted Mancuso, who earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Dayton in Ohio in May 2018.

While getting into the swing of things at ASU, Mancuso quickly found a support network of peers and professors who taught her invaluable lessons. One professor stands out in particular for offering insight when needed most.

“Dr. Yang Kuang would frequently emphasize that mastering mathematical concepts takes time, even for the best and brightest students. It’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t understand something immediately. Remembering his advice that learning takes time has motivated me to keep trying,” she said.

Mancuso also encourages students to seek out community.

“If you haven’t already, join a student club or organization! School is more than just passing classes to earn your degree — it is also an opportunity to build meaningful connections with your peers,” she said.

During her educational journey, Mancuso has received numerous grants and awards to support her aspirations. These include a teaching assistantship from the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences (2018–19, 2020–21); a Data-Oriented Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Research Training Grant (2019–20); tuition funding (2021–22, 2022–23) from Los Alamos National Laboratory researcher Carrie Manore's Laboratory-Directed Research and Development Grant; an Achievement Rewards for College Scientists (ARCS) Scholar Award, sponsored by Sandra Matteucci (2022–23); and the Graduate College Completion Fellowship (2023).

In the conversation below, Mancuso more about her studies and interests.

Question: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: Math is neither a solo sport nor a zero-sum game. It’s critical to work together with other students to achieve success.

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to pursue your field of research?

A: When I took elementary differential equations as an undergraduate, we had to recreate simulations from recently published papers that modeled various biological and chemical phenomena. This experience introduced me to the world of applied mathematics. It showed me how math can be used to solve real-world problems. This made me eager to pivot my career to focus on mathematical modeling.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: I look back very fondly on my first year of graduate school, where many of us worked together on homework sets at Noble Library until the wee hours of the morning.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I will be a Los Alamos National Laboratory postdoc starting next year. I am excited to continue my research career in solving public health problems related to our national security.

Q: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A: Outside of school, work, and academia, I enjoy playing board games, watching anime and attending music festivals.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: The data quality used for model validation limits the insight gained from mathematical and statistical models. I would use $40 million to establish consistent data collection and storage standards, which typically do not exist in most cases. Having reliable, open-source data will help us solve numerous existing problems studied across all STEM fields and beyond.

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