Teaming Up: Mathematics + Life

Three evenings a week, University of Maryland Mathematics Professor Konstantina Trivisa and her teammates carry their rowing shell down to the Potomac River for a workout on the water.  For Trivisa, it’s more than good exercise.

“Rowing is a celebration of teamwork,” she says.

University of Maryland Professor of Mathematics Konstantina TrivisaAn exuberant woman with a great laugh, Trivisa brings the same enthusiasm for teamwork to her day job, where she is director of the Applied Mathematics & Statistics, and Scientific Computation (AMSC) graduate program; a member of the university’s ADVANCE program for inclusive excellence; and associate director of the Institute for Physical Science and Technology.

Even Trivisa’s field of applied mathematics requires teamwork between disciplines. In her current research, Trivisa mixes math with biology and physics to develop mathematical models of tumor growth and treatment.

“The mathematical analysis gives us an idea of how certain kinds of cancerous cells evolve and how various drugs affect their growth,” she says. 

Trivisa’s work on fluids gave rise to kinetic models for the flocking behavior exhibited by certain species of fish, birds and insects.

Since joining the Maryland faculty in 2000, Trivisa has won several awards for her research, including an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and a Simons Foundation Fellowship.

Math has always been a big part of Trivisa’s life, even from her early days growing up in Greece.

“My mother was a factory worker with three years of high school, but she loved mathematics,” Trivisa says. “She pushed my sisters and me to do puzzles and play math games. I wasn’t good at spelling, but I was good in math.”

Today, as director of AMSC—an interdisciplinary graduate program that boasts 150 faculty members from 33 campus units—Trivisa helps students discover what they want to do with their futures. And sometimes, the students steer Trivisa’s future, too. A student interested in how different bacteria communicate led Trivisa to her current research.

“I might not have gotten into this particular research area if I hadn’t invited that student into my office,” she says.

The ADVANCE program also gives Trivisa the opportunity to team with others on campus. Through ADVANCE, she mentors female faculty members in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and she works to strengthen women’s representation, retention and satisfaction on campus.

“In STEM fields, the voice of the woman is often lost,” Trivisa says. “ADVANCE is working to ensure women’s voices are heard and to develop women leaders who communicate concerns at the higher levels.”

One of the women Trivisa has mentored through ADVANCE is Arpita Upadhyaya, associate professor of physics. Upadhyaya says Trivisa’s friendship was valuable at that critical time when she was applying for tenure.

“In a field where there aren’t many women, just knowing someone is there is important,” Upadhyaya says.

“Konstantina sought me out to talk about work, but also about work-life balance. She always exudes enthusiasm and optimism. I hope I’ll be able to show those same qualities.”

“ADVANCE has brought a lot of joy to my life,” Trivisa says. With her passion for teamwork with students, fellow faculty and rowing mates, the same could be said of Trivisa bringing joy to others’ lives.

Written by Ellen Ternes

This article was published in the Spring 2016 issue of Odyssey magazine. To read other stories from that issue, please visit go.umd.edu/odyssey.

 

About the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences

The College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland educates more than 9,000 future scientific leaders in its undergraduate and graduate programs each year. The college's 10 departments and six interdisciplinary research centers foster scientific discovery with annual sponsored research funding exceeding $200 million.