North Central College - Naperville, IL

2012 Goldwater Scholar, Maria Gommel

Maria Gommel ’13 has been named a 2012 Goldwater Scholar, the highest national undergraduate award for achievement in math, science and engineering. Gommel is majoring in actuarial science and mathematics and intends to pursue a doctorate in mathematics after graduation.

“The Goldwater award is among the most prestigious scholarships available to undergraduate students across the country, proof that our top students can compete with the best and brightest undergrads from coast to coast and win,” said Perry Hamalis, Cecelia Schneller Mueller Professor of Religion and director of the Office of Academic Opportunities, in an email to the campus.

Gommel has been collaborating with Linda Gao, professor of mathematics, and two other North Central students to formulate mathematical models to investigate the impact of chicken pox and shingles vaccines at the U.S. population. “We formulated a series of mathematical models to describe the transmission and overall dynamic of the Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV), the virus responsible for chicken pox and shingles. We then used the models we created to specifically investigate the effect of VZV vaccination on incidences of shingles. 

“Our models predicted that shingles cases will increase over the next few decades as a response to the vaccination program currently in place and will then begin to decrease,” Gommel adds. The research was presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research and will be shared at the College’s own Rall Symposium for Undergraduate Research in May.

During the upcoming summer, Gommel will attend a three-week program on mathematical logic at the University of California-Los Angeles.

“Dr. Gao started talking to me about her research when I was a freshman and I’m so thankful this has opened so many doors,” she says. “But all the math professors here have been wonderful to work with and have inspired me to keep pursuing my goals.”