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Megan Tucker standing in park

Mathematics and writing senior awarded Department of Energy fellowship

By Srila Nayak

Megan Tucker, a mathematics senior, was awarded the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship by the U.S. Department of Energy.

As a high school student in Santa Cruz, California, Megan Tucker picked Oregon State University as one of her top two choices for a major in nuclear engineering. Although she opted for a physics major with an emphasis on physical chemistry in her freshman year, before switching to mathematics, the nuclear reactors on campus were what lured her to OSU in the first place. On her first visit, Megan also fell in love with the beautiful campus.

“I really liked the curriculum. I liked the faculty and students I met during my visit. I learned I could do a minor in writing which was very uncommon.” She had found the perfect combination of elements for her undergraduate experience and decided to look no further. And although her priorities would shift and change as she discovered more about herself and her interests, Megan has managed to find the right academic niche at OSU.

Now a double major in mathematics and writing, Megan Lynn Tucker has excelled at and enjoyed the wide gamut of courses at Oregon State University, from Metric Spaces and Topology to Environmental Writing. She will graduate next month with a substantial amount of research experience under her belt: Megan was awarded the Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship, which gave her the opportunity to work on an interdisciplinary team at the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) in Albany, Oregon, during the summer of 2019.

The Mickey Leland Fellowship Program provides students across America with educational opportunities to gain real-world, hands-on research experience with the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy. Megan’s 10-week internship took her to NETL’s Geospatial Analysis, Interpretation and Assessment (GAIA) Computational Facility where she performed geospatial data analysis and statistics related to carbon storage modeling. The GAIA computational lab works on creating models for oil, gas, and rare earth elements. Megan gathered and analyzed wellbore data on a state level to assess availability, consistency, and usability.

“Most of my summer was spent learning about the topic as I have little to no geology background. As the lab was multidisciplinary, I had meetings and conversations with colleagues whose areas of expertise overlapped with this project,” said Megan. “I learned about a variety of topics in geochemistry, petroleum engineering, and geography.”

While focusing on statistical and data errors and trying to account for those inconsistencies to make reliable inferences, Megan discovered how mathematics could be applied to real world problems. She presented her research on wellbore data and carbon sequestration at a Department of Energy conference in Pittsburgh in August 2019.

Megan says the most important skills and values she learned at OSU have to do with lifelong learning and mastering the knack of teaching oneself. “The best thing I learned in college is how to read a textbook, how to do actual scientific research and obtain information that is good, viable and trustworthy.” She was able to transfer her self-reliance to her NETL internship where she quickly learned software applications to perform data analysis. With no prior knowledge, Megan taught herself and became proficient in programming languages such as ArcPro and R.

The new knowledge gained from her internship has been an asset at job interviews. After graduation, Megan will move to Seattle to work as a technical writer with Amazon Web Services — a subsidiary of Amazon that provides on-demand cloud computing platforms to individuals, companies and governments.

“I talked about my software skills a lot during my interviews. Also, the fact that I had written a formal paper, done a presentation and engaged in research as a mathematician,” Megan said. “Regardless of what job it is, technical or creative, to be able to show that one can write and communicate is very important.”

With painstaking determination, Megan applied to nearly 50 jobs before getting the offer from Amazon. Initially interested in data science jobs, she came to realize through the job search process that she really didn’t want to do data science. “Instead, I wanted to write about data science and technical documentation. Getting to know exactly what kind of position I was looking for was very helpful,” Megan observed.

Megan found the knowledge she gained from her technical writing and computer science classes to be particularly useful in her job interviews. She is graduating with an impressive variety of coursework that includes computer science and chemistry in addition to mathematics and writing, a testament to the unique breadth and flexibility of undergraduate studies at OSU.

“I had taken so many mathematics courses that computer science classes became a lot easier for me,” Megan said. “The mathematics major taught me to think logically and intuitively, and that has been helpful with pretty much all my STEM classes.”

Megan switched to mathematics from physics when she found herself enjoying her math classes and realizing that she needed to further explore and understand the fundamentals of the subject beyond what she was getting as a physics major. Her favorite mathematics classes have included Complex Analysis and Linear Algebra. To her pleasant surprise, she has seen the latter pop up everywhere from her courses in quantum mechanics to chemistry and computer science.

A valedictorian, Megan has maintained a very impressive GPA and was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. Beyond all her positive academic experiences, Megan says the most enjoyable part of her undergraduate years has been her discovery of dancing. Introduced to dance at OSU, Megan has mastered ballroom and swing dancing and calls her involvement with the OSU ballroom dance club one of the best things in her life.

“I have had a great academic experience. But being connected to your cohort and not staying isolated is also very important,” said Megan. “Finding your community and making friends helps you not only learn and do well in classes, but also helps you gain social skills and grow as a person.”