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July 11, 2018

Ignoring Advice, a Young Researcher Thrives

Everyone receives bad advice at one time or another. Those who know better—people like junior Jennefer Maldonado—know enough not to follow it.

In high school, Maldonado was advised against majoring in mathematics or computer science in college. Undeterred, she’s studying both at Adelphi. By the middle of her sophomore year, she was accepted into the National Science Foundation’s prestigious Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, and is spending this summer doing cryptography research at the University of Maryland.

The REU program is highly competitive, receiving hundreds of applications each year and accepting only five to 30 students for each participating host school. Maldonado was eager to apply in order to gain more experience and distinguish herself in her chosen field.

“I hope to improve my skills in both mathematics and computer science by working independently on a problem of interest,” Maldonado said. “I also hope to be more prepared for graduate school and the application process.”

During the 10-week program, Maldonado is working on an individual project based on a journal article published in Advances in Cryptology, “Linicrypt: A Model for Practical Cryptography” by Brent Carmer and Mike Rosulek, Ph.D.

“Cryptography is the study of encoding and decoding messages using a key,” Maldonado said. “My project uses linear algebra to study these encryptions more thoroughly and to study other cryptography practices with the automatic creation of programs.”

By the end of the REU program, she hopes to make a significant discovery that can impact the field of modern cryptography. “I want to either improve on something that had already been found—say improvement of security for a cryptographic system—or come up with my own findings,” she said.

In fact, Maldonado has already made one important personal discovery: She knows that she wants to study cryptography and applied mathematics in graduate school.

“While here, I wanted to solidify what topic of study I would like to pursue in graduate school,” Maldonado said. “This has become clear to me already by listening to the daily talks here and by interacting with other students and hearing what kinds of problems they are working on.”

At Adelphi, Maldonado has already distinguished herself as a standout mathematics and computer science student, having also presented a research project at the American Mathematical Society’s Joint Mathematics Meetings—the largest math conference in the world.

“She is a fantastic major and shows tremendous abilities in the field,” said Salvatore Petrilli, ’05, Ed.D., associate professor and chair of the mathematics and computer science department at Adelphi. “In addition, she works hard within our department and in local schools to bring women into the fields of mathematics and computer science.”

Needless to say, Maldonado didn’t heed that advice in high school. She has found a way not only to pursue her passion in mathematics, but also to thrive among her community of researchers and scholars.


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