Allison Torsey is a self-starter. The Depew, NY, native graduated from high school at 16 with enough advanced placement credit to have her first two college semesters nearly completed. Since coming to Buffalo State, the junior dual applied mathematics and physics major has consistently been named to the Dean’s List, tutored other students, elected president of the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority and Math Club, and presented her undergraduate research locally and nationally. She has managed all of this while working a full-time job as a server at a local restaurant.
What is Torsey’s secret to maintaining this frantic level of activity? “Easy, I don’t sleep,” she says with a laugh.
Despite her already considerable experience, Torsey needed some encouragement when it came time to submit her undergraduate research to an international conference. That’s when her mentor, Saziye Bayram, associate professor of mathematics, stepped in and offered support. “I was doing the things Allison is doing as an undergraduate as a graduate student,” Bayram says beaming with pride. “I told her, ‘You’re doing this!’”
Bayram helped Torsey submit her research on opioid abuse in Erie County to the Joint American Mathematical Society (AMS) and Mathematics Association of America (MAA) Conference held in January in San Diego, CA. To Torsey’s surprise, she was not only selected but was the only undergraduate to present her work in a special session on infectious-disease modeling at one of the world’s largest mathematics conferences.
Having initially considered a path in calculus, Torsey was inspired by the study of mathematical modeling she learned in Bayram’s MAT 319 Mathematical Biology class and continued her work with a capstone course usually only offered to seniors.
“I was really interested in studying infectious diseases, but there weren’t many I could find hard data on, so I thought about other issues,” Torsey said. “I looked up drug abuse and realized that while it’s a huge topic that been being studied since the 1990s, the first model on heroin addiction was only applied in 2007.”
Torsey examined previous theoretical models for opioid usage and looked for new parameters that could be added to study opioid abuse in Erie County. She analyzed simulation results to predict progress over the course of a year and the probabilities of drug usage, relapse, and treatment. She presented her initial findings at the Student Research and Creativity Conference (SRCC) last spring and continued her work with an Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship (USRF).
By the time it was presented at the AMS/MAA conference, Torsey's data supported a conclusion that early prevention and education are more effective than later treatment of opioid abuse.
At her well-attended conference presentation, Torsey faced questions from a critical audience. “Mathematicians like to see if presenters really know their material,” Bayram said. “Allison answered all of their questions amazingly well.”
Torsey had prior presentation experience from two SRCCs, a USRF program wrap-up session, and an undergraduate research conference at Penn State.
“All of the other presenters during my session were either faculty or post-docs,” Torsey said. “The session was filled with accomplished mathematicians.” After her presentation, one of the attendees approached her to offer congratulations and a piece of advice. “She said, ‘If you hadn’t told us you were an undergraduate student, we would have never known!’” Torsey says with a smile.
The conference wasn’t all work for Torsey. “It was my first time traveling independently. I explored the city and the conference center and met new people. It was my first time seeing the ocean. I walked around the Gaslamp district. It was overwhelming, but it was a great experience to stand on my own two feet.”
Torsey is currently applying for summer research positions around the country and readying graduate school applications with plans to pursue a Ph.D. in mathematical biology. She may also be adding published author to her list of accomplishments. Torsey and Bayram have co-authored a paper that is currently being submitted to mathematics journals.
She also has some advice for her fellow students considering adding research to their own studies.
“Undergraduate research opened a world of opportunities to me and allowed me to find my passion in mathematical biology,” Torsey said. “Your education is what you make of it, so challenge yourself to learn something you won't get in the classroom.”
Inset photo: Bayram and Torsey in San Diego, CA, January 2018.
Upcoming Undergraduate Research Information Sessions
Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship Program
Thursday, March 15, 12:15–1:30 p.m.
Wednesday, March 21, noon–1:30 p.m.
Science and Mathematics Complex 178
Upcoming Undergraduate Research Deadlines
Student Research and Creativity Conference
Student Deadline: March 22, 2018
Faculty Mentor Deadline: March 23, 2018
Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowships
Student Deadline: April 10, 2018
Faculty Mentor Deadline: April 12, 2018
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