Rising Senior's Internship Fits the Equation

July 18, 2016

The study of mathematics can take you just about anywhere. For the second consecutive summer, Rachel Cunio ’17, has been spending time at an internship with the Air Force Research Laboratory facility in Albuquerque, home of Kirtland Air Force Base.

A strong student who also is in the Honors Program, Cunio as a sophomore heard from a family member who was working in Albuquerque about the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Scholars Program. It offers stipend-paid internships during the summer to graduate students and to college undergraduates pursuing STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) degrees. The interns are given hands-on experiences working with scientists on cutting-edge research projects. Cunio, who is pursuing a dual major in mathematics and psychology, applied and was accepted for that summer.  

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She had a chance to recount some of her work when she returned for her junior year by delivering a presentation during Academic Excellence Day (pictured). An event is held every spring at University Campus to allow students from all majors the chance to present their finest research and creative accomplishments to fellow students and faculty. Cunio’s work fell into the category of mathematics presentations. She described the project she had been assigned to at AFRL, which involved the development of a powerful imager, and the challenges the research team faced. Her presentation was “Efficient Coupling of a Super Continuum Laser to a Double Monochromator.” 

When Cunio learned what she would be working on this summer, she anticipated another fascinating several weeks. “It involves three things that are almost completely new to me: astronomy, photography, and coding in a program called MATLAB. The project involves attaching a special, technologically advanced camera to a large telescope and then analyzing the images in MATLAB. I'll even get to go onto the roof of our building in the middle of the night to take pictures! It's exciting stuff!”

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She is a student who enjoys exploring new fields and discovering areas they have in common. That is how she came to have a dual major, in fact. “I've always been a math major,” she said, “but took psychology classes as electives just for fun. Humans are so interesting I couldn't resist eventually adding psychology as a second major. Now I'm learning just how much the two fields overlap. Psychology involves a lot of modeling and statistical analysis, which math majors love to do. It's actually the perfect combination; I wish more people would take advantage of that.”

When she returns for her senior year, she will be able to relate more about this summer’s experiences to fellow students, and perhaps spend more time deciding on future graduate studies. Before she left for New Mexico, she was considering an advanced degree in applied mathematics or quantitative psychology, which seems to be an “ideal” use of both math and psychology. “I'm excited to find out what the future holds!”