Joana Reis: Research internship in STEM education

Joana Reis '16 completed an internship with the NSF Robert Royce Teaching Program.

Year: Class of 2016
Major: Mathematics
Minors: Portuguese & Management Information Systems
Hometown: Brockton, MA
Internship: National Science Foundation Robert Royce Teaching Program
Research: “Is it Worth Attending College” and “First Year Students’ Understanding of Mathematics Concepts”
Achievement: Honors
Next steps: Master's degree in actuarial science

Passion for numbers and computers

One of my high school teachers inspired me to major in mathematics. I have a strong passion for working with numbers and computers, which is the main reason I decided to minor in Management Information System.

After graduation, I plan on getting an internship in either the data analysis or actuarial field before earning my master’s in actuarial science.

Research internship in STEM education

I interned with the National Science Foundation (NSF) Robert Royce Teaching Program here at UMass Dartmouth. Its purpose is to recruit talented STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) undergraduates to teach math and science in high-need middle and high schools.

I worked with Professor Emeritus Dr. Armand Desmarais from UMassD’s Teaching & Learning department, as well as STEM educators from local high schools.

In addition to working on projects, exhibitions, and hands-on learning experiences, I job shadowed a STEM educator at an area high school. I corrected exams and homework, helped students with assignments and final project ideas, and attended several teaching workshops.

For the final project, I worked in a team of other undergraduate students to design a middle or high school STEM department from the ground up.

We had to form a philosophy, determine qualifications for hiring teachers, design a comprehensive curriculum, decide which teaching methods or strategies to implement, and present a proposal.

Calculating value of a college education

I participated in Research in Scientific Computing in Undergraduate Education (RESCUE) with Professor Sigal Gottlieb on our research project, “Is it Worth Attending College.”

RESCUE is a Computational Science Training for Undergraduates in the Mathematical Sciences (CSUMS) grant program funded by the NSF.

We calculated the return of the investment through the use of computer programs and analytical skills, and compared the salaries of those who graduated college against those who didn’t pursue a college education. It’s important to observe how a college degree provides opportunities for faster improvement.

Because it was my first time working on a large-scale project, I worked with other students who had experience. We started by gathering data from different sources.

We came to the conclusion that if a person wants a career and a comfortable life after retirement, the road to follow is getting a degree from a four-year college or university. We presented our project at the Mass Undergraduate Research Day.

CSUMS was a rewarding opportunity because it provided creativity and critical thinking experience. I became a collaborative learner who’s comfortable with the research process, and I improved my writing and reading skills.

The experience allowed me to build close relationships with faculty and students who shared the same interests as me. I became familiar with the R programming language, and I developed problem-solving and communication skills.

Honors thesis: understanding math concepts

My honors thesis was “First Year Students’ Understanding of Mathematics Concepts.”

The purpose was to determine the top two mathematical concepts first-year UMassD students have the most difficulty learning, determine the issues involved with learning and mastering these concepts, and see how students can best be helped to learn these concepts.

Faculty encourage academic & professional success

My personal relationship with professors in the College of Arts & Sciences has led to academic and professional success. I can always stop by their office and have a face-to-face talk with them.

The UMassD mathematics program has been extraordinary.

The professors are very qualified, enthusiastic, and friendly. They’re always ready to help and have a genuine interest in the progress of their students. They want their students to learn and enjoy mathematics.

Working hard to succeed

To succeed in anything hard, you must believe in yourself. My advice to all other hopeful female mathematicians is to be confident and determined, and to work hard for what you’re passionate about.

For example, when I moved from Cape Verde to the U.S., I struggled to adapt to a new culture.

I made my education a top priority. In order to understand the material I was being taught in school, I would translate it into Portuguese. Once I learned it, I would do the homework in Portuguese and translate it back to English.

Marissa Matton and Tricia Breton contributed to this spotlight.

More information

College of Arts & Sciences: Mathematics

College of Arts & Sciences: Portuguese

Charlton College of Business: Management Information Systems


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