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Ambar La Forgia ’11

41a_laforgia_ambar.jpgAmbar La Forgia ’11, an honors economics major and honors statistics minor, conducted research at the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute at Arizona State University.

This is more a story of luck than choice. I was planning to work in a health policy internship in Washington, D.C., when I was introduced to the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute (MTBI) by the executive director, Dr. Carlos Castillo-Chavez, who had been invited to Swarthmore by the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

As a student in that department, I was invited to attend a dinner with him. I ended up sitting next to him and a Ph.D. student from his program who teaches at Swarthmore. They spoke at length about the MTBI summer program, and I kept thinking to myself, “I really need to strengthen my math skills. Maybe I should work on getting better.” The next day, I ran into Dr. Castillo-Chavez again, and he invited me to apply for the program. In the end, I switched my plans and headed to Tempe, Arizona.

My personal focus is on health policy. I knew that at MTBI we would be looking at mathematical modeling of diseases as well as learning how to write a lengthy mathematics paper. I decided to get out of my comfort zone and learn something completely new to me, in a new location, although still related to public health.

At first, I felt like I was in a math boot camp. The classes were super hard core, and often students would pull all-nighters. We worked on projects in groups, and mine was “Immigration Laws and Immigrant Health: Modeling the Spread of Tuberculosis in Arizona.” While tuberculosis is rare in the United States, it’s much more prevalent among foreign-born persons and often afflicts those who don’t have access to health care.

It was a very different program from what I’d expected, but I ended up working so hard and learning so much more than I thought was possible in one summer. Anyone with a strong interest in applied mathematics or biology could benefit. It definitely strengthened my understanding of how math can be applied to public health models and ideas, which will be very useful to me as I plan to pursue a Ph.D. in health economics.

One Response to “Ambar La Forgia ’11”

  1. Great Job Ambar!!! what a story!!! You should be proud of your hard work!!!