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Fernando Angulo Barba stands in a blue shirt and khaki pants in front of Kidder Hall.

GEM Fellowship allows parent Ph.D. student space to thrive

By Hannah Ashton

Fernando Angulo Barba’s love of mathematics involves grocery stores.

“When we went shopping when I was younger, my dad would always ask me what the change would be as he was handing it over, and I would try to race the cashier before they said it. I was pretty good at it,” he said.

Years later, Angulo Barba earned his master’s in applied and interdisciplinary mathematics from the University of Michigan and decided to continue his education with a Ph.D. at Oregon State University.

“My parents came from Mexico, they both moved in their twenties. Education is kind of the pipeline to have an easier life than they had. And I’ve really taken that to heart,” he said.

When he first started his Ph.D. program in 2021, he also worked as a graduate teaching assistant for three undergraduate mathematics classes. This allowed him to receive a salary and have his tuition fully paid for, but it also took up a lot of his time.

Wanting to spend more time with his partner and one-year-old son, Angulo Barba applied for the GEM Fellowship, a national program that promotes the participation of underrepresented groups in post-graduate science and engineering education and the technical workforce.

Founded in 1976 at the University of Notre Dame, the fellowship supports students pursuing doctoral degrees in the natural science disciplines — chemistry, physics, earth sciences, mathematics, biological sciences and computer science.

The program covers full tuition, fees and an annual stipend in collaboration with a sponsoring GEM university. Fellows also participate in a minimum of one paid summer internship.

Angulo Barba spent nearly three months in Idaho Falls, Idaho, working with Idaho National Laboratory computational mechanics and materials group.

The company developed MOOSE, an open-source finite element-based platform for solving multi-physics problems, and BISON, a program used to study nuclear fuels. His role was running sensitivity analyses to figure out which input parameters, such as temperature or fission rate based on different models, affect the output the most.

In addition to strengthening his programming skills, Angulo Barba was able to create connections.

“They encouraged asking questions, which made it easy to learn and network and find out what other people are doing, where they came from and their experiences,” he said.

The internship also cemented his desire to become a professor or work in a laboratory.

“I’ve been lucky and fortunate enough to get support while being a minority in STEM, so being a professor or someone who works in a lab would allow me to pay it forward,” he said.

On campus he will be working with Mathematician and Interim Dean Vrushali Bokil, studying computational mathematics and the virtual element method.

“Before I came here I met current students and they said it was a ‘family vibe’ where everyone looks out for each other, and I would definitely say that’s true.”

The College of Science and more specifically the Department of Mathematics have been behind him both inside and outside of the classroom.

Earlier this year Angulo Barba was struggling with a bad living situation. He ended up running into a professor from his first-year seminar course who took the time to connect him to a landlord and find better housing.

“It meant a lot to me,” he said. “Before I came here I met current students and they said it was a ‘family vibe’ where everyone looks out for each other, and I would definitely say that’s true.”