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Tiffany Ferreira: Math, physics & solar power

A dual major in math and physics, Tiffany Ferreira ’14 of Acushnet recently welcomed newly accepted students to an "Experience UMassD" event with her inspirational story of personal development, academic achievement, and opportunities for research and an internship.

Following graduation, she’ll pursue a PhD in Engineering and Applied Science, hold a teaching assistantship, and continue to work as a member of the design team at Southern Light Solar in New Bedford.

Math major, tutor & undergraduate researcher

I started my academic career at UMass Dartmouth as a math major—and planned to become a high school teacher. I had wonderful math instructors at New Bedford High, and I wanted to share that experience with others.

I became a tutor in the Math and Business Center, where students receive free tutoring sessions in a variety of subjects. Working as a tutor allowed me to help others, but also let me improve my own skills in communication and in working in a team environment. These skills provided a solid foundation for what came next in my academic journey: research.

The beauty of applied math & the power of scientific computing

Be aggressive with your education, and you will leave here well-prepared for any career path you choose.

I was invited to participate in two computational research programs funded by the National Science Foundation. I worked with small groups to create numerical and visual simulations. I chose projects that focused on what I was passionate about: alternative energy. Each research experience was different, but both introduced me to the beauty of applied math and the power of scientific computing.

Thanks to this research program and with the help of my professors, I’ve been able to attend four research conferences across the country, where I’ve learned about various applications of mathematics and physics—and the limitations still facing scientists today. 

The first conference I attended was particularly compelling because the keynote speaker stressed that our generation will be tasked with solving today’s problems. This unique responsibility helped solidify my desire to dual major in physics.

Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics

Most recently, I attended a conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics in New York, where I toured Brookhaven National Laboratory. At the lab—which extends over 5,000 acres—I explored three different particle colliders “behind the scenes.” The most impressive was the National Synchrotron Light Source II, which is still being built. These particle accelerators are used by scientists from all over the world, for conducting high energy physics experiments. I also visited their 32-megawatt solar farm.

Intrigued by alternative energy

A course in environmental physics increased my interest in learning about alternative energy. For a final project, I choose to estimate the efficiency of photovoltaic cells—also known as solar cells—because I was intrigued by the limited efficiency these cells could have even though their electrical mechanisms have been known about for over 200 years.

I didn't know it at the time, but my research on solar cells and solar systems would eventually pay off.

Internship—and position—at Southern Light Solar

I was interested in gaining experience in the alternative energy field, and this fall was offered an internship with Southern Light Solar, a solar panel installation company based in New Bedford. My knowledge of how solar panels work was extremely relevant in securing this position.

Six months later: I am no longer an intern at Southern Light Solar, but a member of the design and project administration team working to bring cleaner methods of energy production to residential and commercial properties in Massachusetts.

Plans for a PhD in Engineering and Applied Science

I plan to pursue my PhD in Engineering and Applied Science at UMass Dartmouth in the fall, while holding a teaching assistantship position. I also plan to continue at Southern Light Solar part time.

Ultimately, I want to become a professor in either applied math or physics to teach others about the beauty in the sciences.

Sound advice: take advantage of opportunities

My advice to each of you is to get involved within the university and take advantage of all the opportunities that arise throughout the course of your education. Don't be afraid to ask questions, attend a professor’s office hours, and schedule tutoring sessions. Be aggressive with your education, and you will leave here well-prepared for any career path you choose. 

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