Understanding biological issues with math
August 22, 2016
Alumna (Class of 2016)
Okanagan (Kelowna, BC)
BSc Applied Mathematics, Minor Computer Science (in progress)
High River, Alberta
“Through research projects, I met and got to work with amazing professors, peers and scientists.”
WHEN JESSA MARLEY MOVED to Kelowna from High River, Alberta, it took her a couple of years to find her place at UBC Okanagan. Once she did, things she previously didn’t know existed— support, opportunities and relationships—unfolded in all directions.
“I always enjoyed math and science, but I wasn’t sure what you could do with a degree in math, so I started out in sciences. I didn’t have a lot of confidence or direction when I started my studies.”
Marley chose sciences because of her love of animals and biology, but after a couple of years she came to the realization that she didn’t want to ruin this passion by making it her full-time focus.
In her second year, Marley volunteered for a research project with Associate Professor of Math Rebecca Tyson. She learned that she could apply math to understand biological and other issues, and decided to switch her major.
“Rebecca taught me how to do research and showed me that I already had a lot of applicable knowledge,” Marley says. “She reassured, encouraged and supported me. Through this and other research projects, I met and got to work with amazing professors, peers and scientists working in the community.”
Just as Marley was hitting her stride with her studies, tragedy struck while she was home for the summer. Between second and third year, she was visiting her family in High River when the 2013 Alberta floods hit.
“My mom and I were surrounded by water for seven hours waiting for a helicopter rescue. After the floods, we were unable to return to the same location, so while I returned to school, my family began the process of relocating and rebuilding our home.”
The episode left Marley shaken; it showed in course work and grades. But the relationships she had built with her professors proved instrumental, as they recognized something wasn’t right, and helped Marley through the slump.
“One of my professors pulled me aside and said she knew the work I was submitting was out of character. She took the time to listen to what was wrong, and helped figure out a way to get through it.
“That is one of the great things about the size of the UBCO campus. You really do get the opportunity to know the faculty. These relationships are invaluable during your studies, but are also important for reference letters, advice and opportunities.”
THE STUDENT BECOMES THE TEACHER
In her fourth year of studies, Marley received an Irving K. Barber School of Arts and Sciences Undergraduate Research Award to study how climate change affects predator/prey systems.
She has also been involved in Work Study and directed studies research projects as part of the Okanagan Institute for Biodiversity, Resilience, and Ecosystem Services (BRAES) research team, where she works with scientists from all over the world.
Marley now uses the expertise she has gained over the first few years of her undergraduate degree to teach and mentor other students.
As the president of the Quantitative Sciences Course Union, she acts as an unofficial mentor to students in math, stats, physics and computer science. She also has the opportunity to work as an undergraduate teaching assistant, formally passing on the knowledge and skills she has gained at UBC Okanagan over the last four years.
—by Deanna Roberts