College of Science seniors Aimee Maurais and Arianna Krinos eye future with research positions at MIT
Virginia Tech College of Science seniors Aimee Maurais and Arianna Krinos have worked hard during a wildly successful four years, choosing multiple majors and research projects that practically define the mantra of collaborative science and the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
Now as they are nearing graduation, Maurais, a double major in computational modeling and data analytics (CMDA) and mathematics, has been named the 2019 Outstanding Senior in the College of Science. Krinos, a triple major in CMDA, biological sciences, and computer science in the College of Engineering, has won the 2019 College of Science Senior Undergraduate Research Award.
Maurais and Krinos are roommates, friends, and collaborators. In 2018 and 2019, they teamed up for the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications Mathematical Contest in Modeling (MCM). They were designated as Outstanding Winners each time, two of a handful of Americans to be so honored. For the competition, they chose among preset topics that played to their combined strengths.
“The problems we chose in the MCM were biologically or ecologically based, and Arianna’s subject matter expertise was invaluable to understanding them better and finding approaches that were not only creative, but made sense in context,” Maurais said. “Once we have an idea, we figure out how to divide and conquer in a way that plays to each of our strengths, and the final product turns out really nice.”
It was Krinos who initially reached out to Maurais, looking for a first-year roommate with similar interests. The two connected on social media at first. “We didn’t actually talk a lot freshman and sophomore years because we were both shy,” Maurais said. “But when we began working on CMDA homework together junior year, things really clicked and we realized that we make a great team.”
The friendship will continue. This summer, Maurais and Krinos will both move to Boston and live near one another. Maurais will work in MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Chemical and Biological Defense Systems division doing applied research, including modeling, simulation, data analysis, and field testing. She also plans to earn a Ph.D. in applied mathematics or computational science. Krinos will jump into a Ph.D. in the MIT-Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program as a Computational Science Graduate Fellow with the U.S. Department of Energy.
“When I first starting talking with Aimee, I had no idea that we would ever collaborate on anything, let alone end up in several classes together and co-authors on multiple publications,” Krinos said of Maurais. “The reason we work so well together is that our interactions are, for the most part, noncompetitive. Both of us are motivated to learn and to get our work done, and we’ve discovered a really good rhythm for working collaboratively.”
Added Maurais of Krinos, “I’m always learning something from her; she’s a rare gem of a friend. One thing I really admire about Arianna is her sense of vision and ability to craft and execute a plan to achieve her goal.”
Maurais’ four years at Virginia Tech have been busy and exceptionally successful. She is a Stamps Scholar in the Virginia Tech Honors College, served as a peer mentor to first-year mathematics students, and helped spearhead the inaugural Women in Data Science Blacksburg Conference this past February.
But her proudest moments of the past four years occurred not on campus, but on the highways and backroads of the United States, on a 10-speed bicycle. During the summer of 2017, between her sophomore and junior years, Maurais participated in Bike & Build, a nonprofit that engages young adults in cross-country cycling trips to raise awareness for affordable housing. Maurais and 35 other bicyclists rode 3,900 miles from Yorktown, Virginia, to Cannon Beach, Oregon. Along the way, the team got off their bikes and picked up hammers and drills to volunteer with such groups as Habitat for Humanity.
“Bike & Build was one of the most personally impactful things I’ve ever done,” Maurais said. “This journey taught me in a very real way the importance of community, the confidence to set ambitious goals, and the beauty of accepting help and kindness from others, even from random strangers.”
Most surprising about this journey: Maurais wasn’t an avid bicyclist beforehand.
“I would go for bike rides for exercise and fun, but I didn't own a road bike and never did anything longer than 18 miles,” the Wake Forest, North Carolina, native added. “During the trip, we averaged about 65 miles per day with some days as long as 111 miles. The terrain could be pretty unforgiving, so it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you set your mind to it and have good people to journey with you.”
Professors, such as Mark Embree from the Department of Mathematics and the CMDA program, know how driven Aimee is to succeed. “In terms of mathematical insight and problem-solving talent, I rank Aimee among the top six students with whom I have worked in 16 years of teaching,” Embree said.
Krinos has had her own streak of incredible successes. Among them: she twice won the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation award, earned a 2018 Goldwater Scholarship, and won the College of Engineering’s Eleanor Davenport and William C. McAllister Leadership Scholarships. She also won a Hollings Scholarship, a two-year National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grant that included a lab internship.
Under Assistant Professor Cayelan Carey and Professor Lisa Belden and with postdoctoral associate Kaitlin Farrell, all in the Department of Biological Sciences, Krinos used computer models and quantitative data tools to describe and predict changes in freshwater ecosystems. It was this work that earned her the Science Research Award.
“Arianna exemplifies the curiosity, perseverance, and creativity that drives science forward,” said the awarding committee, headed by Robin Panneton, associate dean for undergraduate programs in the College of Science. “The College of Science is extremely proud to count Arianna among our scientific family.”
It is her growth as a researcher that Krinos most treasures from her time at Virginia Tech. “My proudest experience of my college years has been my development as a scientist,” said Krinos, who hails from Tampa, Florida. “I am empowered by how my undergraduate experiences have shaped me: these past four years have bridged my blind curiosity and enthusiastic ambition with my love for school and education.”
Krinos also points to her service as editor-in-chief of Engineers’ Forum, a nearly 40-year-old magazine run by Virginia Tech students, as another shining achievement. She joined the magazine as first-year student and saw it through a downturn in student membership and eventual build-up with a strong turn toward an online presence. “The role we can play on campus is very powerful for student engagement.”