Exploring the Power of Research – Rayna Maleki

Rayna Maleki

“I chose to come to Meredith because of the scholarships and financial aid I was offered, and because of how at home I felt during an admitted students day. In addition, the summer before my freshman year, I attended a summer symposium for multicultural students at Meredith. I met most of my closest friends there and they have been the greatest support system for me the last four years.

I knew I was interested in STEM, so I started in the dual-degree engineering program. After realizing engineering was not the path for me, I found myself wanting to take more math classes. At the end of my sophomore year, I decided I also wanted to have an education in the social sciences. I considered pursuing a double major in social work or getting education licensure, but I ultimately decided to study psychology after doing a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at Virginia Commonwealth University. We applied math to do data analysis and mathematical modeling for mental health research.

I have had amazing faculty mentors. I had the opportunity to be a student advisor for Dr. Phillip Andreae during my junior year, and he encouraged me to get involved with Canaday Math and Computer Science Club. Dr. Andreae also encouraged me to do another mathematics REU at the University of Texas at Tyler in graph theory, where I was exposed to pure mathematics research and had the opportunity to work alongside mathematics students from all over the country. In my senior year, he advised my independent study in topology, which solidified my desire to go to graduate school for mathematics.

One of my favorite classes I took at Meredith was Psychology Research Methods with Dr. Candalyn Rade, who also became my thesis advisor. She has been incredibly supportive and always had her office door open to me whenever I needed to talk about anything, research related or not. I also had the opportunity to be Dr. Rade’s teaching assistant (TA) during my senior year, which I really enjoyed. My favorite part of being a TA is helping other students with their research papers. I get to see what other psychology majors are interested in and read about diverse research topics while also making an impact. 

In my junior year, I started working as an undergraduate research assistant with Dr. Betty-Shannon Prevatt and Dr. Pamela Norcross on their NIH-funded project, Advancing Insight into Maternal Social Support (AIMSS). Dr. Prevatt and Dr. Norcross really helped me to become a stronger researcher. One of my main tasks was data cleaning and management of electronic health records data. This was a unique opportunity, especially since we were doing research with medical data in the social sciences, which is uncommon. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with the team on two original research presentations, both of which were presented at national conferences. 

One of the goals of the AIMSS project is to enhance the undergraduate research environment at Meredith College, which is extremely important to me. I’ve had two opportunities to conduct research at other institutions and several opportunities to do so at Meredith. Often students are not aware of research opportunities or even believe they can have these kinds of experiences at the undergraduate level, especially at a primarily undergraduate institution like Meredith. I enjoyed working with the team to compile resources for students interested in conducting research at Meredith or elsewhere, promoting research grants, scholarships, and external research programs. 

In college, I have learned that I really enjoy giving oral presentations. Meredith professors do a great job of having students present for class activities and projects and fostering an encouraging and inclusive environment for students to be comfortable presenting. I have now given many research presentations and am confident in my ability to do so. Also, being comfortable in front of a room full of people is one of the many reasons I hope to be a professor someday.

I am proud to have found my place and learned what I like, and what I don’t like. I came to Meredith in the dual-degree engineering program and I struggled for my first few semesters because it wasn’t where I was meant to be. Once I found my home in math and psychology, I became much happier and excelled as a student. 

I will be pursuing my M.S. in Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University and working as a teaching assistant throughout my time there! I am excited to be able to explore theoretical mathematics, gain teaching experience, and solidify my interest in becoming a professor. I also hope to continue using my psychology background and explore some interdisciplinary mathematics. Knowing my strengths has helped me grow as a student and understand that I am capable of going to graduate school.”