The College of Science has traditionally honored one student per graduating class as the McPhee Scholar and Valedictorian, but this year, as happened in 2019, the college is honoring two exceptional students. This year’s honorees are both from the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. They are Marina Girgis, majoring in pure math, and Masato Terasaki, majoring in applied math.
When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected her, Marina Girgis said, “The switch to virtual instruction wasn’t a problem to me. The educational classes I’m taking are already hybrid.” Girgis is in the teaching credential program at CPP and plans to teach math, though she hasn’t decided which grade she wants to teach.
“Virtual instruction allows me to sit comfortably at home which actually increased my focus since I’m more relaxed,” she added.
Terasaki said, “If I’m stuck on a problem, it’s faster to work through it face-to-face, now I have to wait.” On the positive side he said, “I was commuting so far, now I no longer have to wake up early to go to school. It also helps with notes since the lecture is on video and I can watch it again.”
“The students at Cal Poly Pomona play a big role in the development and maintenance of their learning environment. The campus is so diverse with professional and courteous faculty who care about a student’s development,” said Girgis, “There are so many resources available for students, you just have to stick your neck out a bit. I found the key to success is time management and utilizing all possible resources available to understand the material. CPP also fosters group work and peer discussions. It aims to prepare the students for the real world.”
Girgis was involved in the STAR Research program in the summer of 2018. “I had the opportunity to do research in the Institute of Systems Biology in Seattle, WA and later present my work in the STAR conference in San Diego in January 2019,” said Girgis.
Terasaki began his college career in San Jose, CA and credits College of Science faculty for helping him adjust to college. “Cal Poly Pomona is where I became most confident as a student because I was insecure about my English not being very good, but it is so diverse, I felt less judged,” said Terasaki, “The College of Science has so many resources to help build a community and receive support especially from the professors.”
Terasaki wanted to become financially independent, so he dedicated himself to his work to ensure that he would be done within four years. “I had no option to fail. Luckily, I had supportive professors that helped me build my resume to be competitive for grad school and receive independent scholarships,” said Terasaki. “My department and college also had scholarships available for students like me to remove financial hardship and help me further my career in the process. The relationships I was able to build with my professors and the people I have worked with I know will last long into the future.”
The Path to Math
Girgis was born in Egypt, spent her teenage years in Kenya, and moved to the United States with her family in 2013. “Each place has contributed to my character to shape me into someone who embraces other cultures and is interested in exploring them,” said Girgis.
She struggled with mathematics at an early age, but began to pair mathematics with reason and logic and it truly clicked. “I always loved thinking about how things work, fact-based arguments and reason. I was always interested in solving puzzles, I’m an analyzer,” said Girgis.
Terasaki was born in Japan and later moved to West Africa for his adolescent years. Similar to Girgis, Terasaki struggled with math in his early years. His father was concerned he wouldn’t pass the test to graduate middle school, so he hired a tutor.
Terasaki realized “Math is something I can actually do and have a passion for. I like pushing abstract ideas and finding solutions,” said Terasaki. He has since developed a love for math and wants to help others develop a love for it as well. “Success is a mindset. If you shut down and put yourself down, you won’t succeed. Math is everywhere and if you learn to love it you will be less afraid.”
Plans for the Future
Girgis has always longed for an interaction-based career in a diverse community, and wants “to be a part of the nurture and refinement of our youth,” said Girgis. “I had great professors that provided greater insights into the subject and now I’m in the teaching credential program and I’m being taught by some of the absolute best professors that make me excited for my future.” Girgis’ dream for the future is to be able to combine art and math to teach students mathematics in creative and insightful ways.
The COVID-19 pandemic points out the value of technology in teaching. Girgis plans to use it in her classroom. “I have always been interested in educational videos, smart boards, and the various ideas of incorporating technology in the classroom. I am still learning about the various options,” she said.
Terasaki said, “This experience taught me that people have different ways of learning and this method is actually working for some students. As I would like all my students to be successful, if implementing this method will help even one student, I will do it.”
Terasaki is interested in a career in applied mathematics. He wants to pursue a Ph.D. and looks forward to attending a research school where he can gain industry experience as well as teaching experience. “With applied math, you can go into industry work or academia,” said Terasaki. “I know I will eventually end up in academia because I want to help others develop a love for math like my tutor did. With everything happening with COVID-19 right now, I am waiting to see how the programs I have applied to respond and seeing what my options will be.”
Even though commencement ceremonies are postponed due to the current pandemic, the students will still be honored along with their graduating class. Terasaki said “This has been a challenging time especially for international students that are far from home, like me, but my professors are really committed to doing all that they can to support their students through it and that keeps their spirits up.”