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Berlinda Batista in Woods Hole, MA
Berlinda Batista in Woods Hole, MA. Photo credit: NEFSC/NOAA.

October 8, 2015
Contact: Teri Frady

Bridgewater State Student Brings Math Skills to New Bedford Harbor Study

As a first generation college student, Berlinda Batista is blazing new trails. Born and raised in Boston, she is the first in her family of four sisters and three brothers to attend college, and the first to pursue a science career. A senior at Bridgewater State University with a major in mathematics and a minor in actuarial science, she plans to graduate in the spring of 2016 and explore career possibilities.

This past summer those possibilities became more realistic when Batista made her first trip to Woods Hole, Mass. to spend the summer participating in the Woods Hole Partnership Education Program (PEP). A ten-week internship program designed to promote diversity in the scientific community, PEP provides undergraduates from underrepresented minority groups with practical research experience in marine and earth sciences at the six major science institutions in the village of Woods Hole. More than 100 students from 68 colleges and universities have participated since the program, which includes a month-long course and a research project for college credit, began in 2009.

Batista heard about the program from Dr. Anna Martin-Jearld in BSU’s Social Work Department. Martin-Jearld’s husband, Dr. Ambrose Jearld at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, is the PEP director. It was Batista’s first internship, and it has changed her plans for the future.

I had the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, challenge myself, explore, and meet new people, Batista said. Ive always been inspired to demonstrate the beauty of mathematics. I enjoy the logic associated with the studies of computation, the thought process in problem solving and analyzing data. I seek adventure and investigating uncertainty which is why I find myself in the mathematics field. Being able to face the challenges that come along with solving problems is what intrigues and motivates me to pursue a mathematics degree.

While working at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on the research project part of the PEP, Batista worked with mentor Dr. Anna Michel and lab partner Solianna Herrera, another PEP intern and recent chemistry graduate of the University of South Florida, using Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) to observe contaminants found in the sediments of New Bedford Harbor, an EPA Superfund site due to its environmental contamination. Batista used her skills in mathematics to create a computer code that could statistically analyze heavy metals found in the sediment sample. Her focus was to model trends of elements found in specific sample locations, with the hope to improving the use of in situ sediment analysis.

I had little experience with coding, so the project was totally new to me, Batista said of the experience. Being able to have hands-on experience doing research was my favorite part of the program. I wanted to apply the skills that I learned in lectures to data where I can view real outcomes, and Ive been fortunate to finally experience this opportunity. It has been exciting to work on research that could be applied to the real world.

Her PEP experience has changed her plans for the future, inspiring her to travel and explore the world and perhaps apply to a study-abroad program. She plans to attend graduate school to continue her education after exploring other internships to help decide on a focus.

Asked to describe her PEP experience in five words, she responded with outstanding, challenging, worthwhile, inspirational and supportive. As to what the summer internship meant to her, that was simple. “It opened my mind to the many opportunities available in the mathematics field.

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