Close Menu

Kelsey Marcinko '14

Professor merges interests in math, ecology and teaching

Kelsey Marcinko '14 entered college at Whitworth unsure if she wanted to study biology, biophysics or math. Her future goals became clear when she took a differential equations math class and modeled pollution in the Great Lakes.

"I realized that I could apply math to environmental areas, and this helped me connect my mathematical interests with an application area that I care about deeply," Marcinko says. "From that point on, I knew that I wanted to pursue the path to being a math professor."

Marcinko majored in math at Whitworth and went on to the University of Washington, where she continued to merge her interests in math and environmental science by studying mathematical ecology.

"Mathematical ecology generally uses mathematical models to study the interactions and dynamics of populations of a single species or interacting species," Marcinko says. "The goal is often to develop theories about how particular traits or environmental conditions impact the survival of a species – particularly when it is not possible to vary a condition experimentally in the field."

Another passion of Marcinko's is undergraduate teaching. After graduating from Whitworth, she learned about the kind of educator she wants to be while teaching English in Slovakia on a Fulbright scholarship. "I learned that my experience of receiving support and encouragement from countless teachers was not necessarily typical," she says. "I developed a deep appreciation for the dedicated teachers who taught me from kindergarten through college." She returned home with the belief that a teacher's responsibility is "to embody care and to empower students in the context of learning."

Marcinko is a recipient of the Boeing Teaching Award from the University of Washington Department of Applied Mathematics. In 2020, with her Ph.D. in applied mathematics fresh in hand, Marcinko returned to teach at her alma mater Whitworth, where she is an assistant professor of math & computer science.

"The heart and generosity of the Whitworth faculty and staff made a deep impact on me as a student, and I continue to be blessed by these incredible people who are now my colleagues," she says. "It has consistently been my experience that Whitworth faculty care for students far beyond the classroom. I have also learned so much in my Christian journey from professors sharing their faith. I am excited to be part of all of that and to be giving back to a community that has blessed me richly."

Are you thinking about your own career in math?

Kelsey Marcinko offers advice for math majors looking to explore their interests.

  1. Gain a variety of hands-on experiences. "Some of the things that were valuable to me as an undergraduate were summer research, being a grader or TA for a variety of math courses, and attending a couple of math conferences. I also presented my summer research work at a math colloquium. Some students also really enjoy mathematical challenges like the Putnam Competition."
  2. Start thinking about your future. "Whether a student is interested in graduate school or a job in industry, I highly encourage students to talk with others in their field(s) of interest (ask your professors for connections and contact info!). Also, the Career Prep course for math and computer science students includes a lot of useful activities and reflection – don't put this course off till your senior year since it may be really beneficial in helping you determine your desired path after graduating!"
  3. Take different types of courses. "I encourage math majors to take a variety of courses – get some experience with both pure math and applied math to stretch your thinking and expose you to new subfields within math!"

Breeann Wilson '19

Math grad moves forward with confidence

Bi Zhao

Approaching politics with compassion, civility

Loyd Patton '21

Veteran proves it's never too late to finish degree