Student writing math equations on the board

News & Features

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Carly Hall has always loved math, and she’s been very good at it. But it wasn’t until the summer before her senior year, standing in front of a room full of incoming freshmen, that the University Honors Program Scholar would discover her passion: teaching.

In the summer of 2015, Hall and 10 other students served as peer tutors in intermediate algebra courses for first-year incoming freshmen in the three-week English and Math Enrichment, Readiness and Growth Experience (EMERGE) Program. The session was designed to help students strengthen their math skills as they prepared for college.

“I enjoyed every single day of the EMERGE Program,” said Hall, a Mathematics major. “That sparked me. I didn’t want it to end.”

Hall, a Prospect High School graduate, excelled in the three calculus-level courses she took at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine. After completing her associate degree, Hall decided to pursue Mathematics at Northeastern, where her academic star has shined brightly. Hall won a prestigious Phi Theta Kappa scholarship, enrolled in the University Honors Program and earned an internship with the Student Center for Science Engagement (SCSE).

“The Mathematics department here at Northeastern is so great,” said Hall, who also serves as a peer tutor for the Mathematics Enrichment Workshop Program. “I have been taking a full course load of math classes every single semester, and I enjoy it.”

In addition to her eagerness to teach math one day, Hall has seized the opportunity to apply her math knowledge to research projects. As part of her SCSE internship, Hall joined a multidisciplinary team of Biology, Psychology and Mathematics students who worked on a behavioral neuroscience project using zebrafish as a model organism. The Biology and Psychology students focused on the complex social behavioral effects that pharmaceutical and environmental treatments had on the zebrafish’s motor function—specifically, shoaling, or swimming in groups. Hall used moment-to-moment positional data to quantify shoaling with calculations and developed a mathematical model. The research confirmed that the zebrafish retained motor function, and the calculations showed the distinct differences between the groups. The mathematical model revealed that the zebrafish settle on an average shoal size (area), and that the shoal fluctuates with a characteristic frequency and amplitude.

“To have a visual representation with numbers next to it makes for a more compelling story,” said Hall, who will present her research at an annual symposium before she graduates from Northeastern in May 2016.

As a University Honors Program Scholar, Hall is required to complete a senior project that represents outstanding undergraduate achievement and the culmination of the Honors Scholar curriculum. She decided to use her quantitative work from the summer research program as the basis of her thesis. The continued work on her thesis was supported by the Brommel-Manganiello-Wohl scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to a University Honors Program Scholar in recognition of outstanding potential to succeed in graduate-level studies based on the scholar’s research endeavors.

“Her thesis is about 120 pages long,” said Assistant Professor of Mathematics Joseph Hibdon, who also is Hall’s thesis advisor. “That’s very impressive and almost the equivalent of some Ph.D. Mathematics theses. I think it’s great.”

Hall’s work is so impressive, in fact, that Hibdon believes her research could get published, a rarity for an undergraduate.

“It’s nice to have this opportunity, and Carly has taken full advantage of it,” he said.

Hall’s success comes not just from her natural intelligence, but also from an incredible work ethic, according to her research lab partner, Marla Jean Douma.

“I remember that Carly showed up prepared on Day One,” said Douma, a senior Psychology major. “While most of us were uncertain how to conduct ourselves in the lab, she came to our first meeting motivated and full of ideas. Even though she had many other obligations on her plate, she could always be counted on to get her share of the work done. When Carly makes a commitment, it's as good as done.”

Hall plans to pursue a master’s degree in Mathematics with an emphasis in math education. She wants to become a community college math teacher and eventually earn a Ph.D. and become a full professor.

“Transferring to Northeastern is a blessing in disguise,” she said. “I had the opportunity to discover various career paths, and receive consistent support from my colleagues and professors. Education has always been of utmost importance in my life and a crucial part of who I am. I have been very fortunate to encounter so many great educators and students along the way, and Northeastern is no exception. I look forward to continuing my education and staying active with teaching and internships. It’s been like second nature to me to just keep on going.”