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Black History Month
2023 Honoree

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Maia Powell & Aquia Richburg

Maia Powell & Aquia Richburg











Maia Powell, PhD Candidate, University of California, Merced

I began to love math from a very young age, largely because my mother is great with numbers. She is the type of person that can glance at a license plate once and remember it for the rest of her life. She doesn’t need to save numbers on her phone because her memory is just that good. I remain in awe of this talent and, as such, my passion for numbers has always been a fundamental part of my identity; however, I assumed my career options were limited due to the lack of representation of women and people of color in positions of power, especially within STEM fields. Even while pursuing my undergraduate degree studying mathematics at the University of Northern Colorado, this insecurity persisted. I found that my classes in STEM were comprised predominantly of men, and I was almost always the only Black student in any classroom. Accordingly, it was difficult to feel I truly belonged. These feelings changed when I joined the Ronald E. McNair program during my third year as an undergraduate. I became part of a community of individuals who looked like me and had experiences similar to mine.

After finishing my B.S. in Applied Mathematical Sciences with a concentration in Computer Science and a minor in Sociology, I went on to attend the University of California, Merced to pursue a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics with Dr. Arnold Kim as my adviser. I was honored to be awarded the 2020 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, as it has allowed me to focus on research I am passionate about. As a “zillenial”, I am an avid social media user. I was excited to discover fields like natural language processing and data science, as they can be used as tools to study interactions online. With these interests in mind, work toward my thesis involves studying structural differences and interpretations of viral socio-political hashtags, as well as the spread of misinformation online. Apart from doing research, I have enjoyed being an active member of organizations on campus such as the RadioBio podcast, W-STEM (Women in STEM), and the Graduate Student Association.

Through my experiences struggling and eventually persisting through preliminary exams, coursework, and advancing to candidacy, I was simultaneously uplifted and humbled. I am proud of my accomplishments, as well as the imperfect journey that brought me them. On days that imposter syndrome is weighing particularly heavy on me, I remember that even the most accomplished individuals feel this way sometimes.


Aquia Richburg, PhD Candidate, University of Maryland

My name is Aquia Richburg.  Originally from South Carolina, I moved to Atlanta to obtain my undergraduate degree in mathematics from Morehouse College.  Currently, I am a PhD candidate in applied mathematics at the University of Maryland, College Park.  My research interests are natural language processing and machine translation. In my free time, I enjoy outdoor activities like running and hiking and indoor activities like cooking and music. It’s difficult to pinpoint a moment that definitively influenced my interest in mathematics but I’m reminded of an anecdote of enjoying finding the mathematics behind things. During my time in middle school, my aunt purchased me a book of math-related puzzles and activities. The book also contained a few card tricks that used math to keep track of certain cards.  I remember learning a few of the tricks to perform for my classmates.  The tricks are simple math but packaged with some flourishes they can appear as magic.  And I feel this is not too dissimilar to the math behind the “magic” of technologies such as ChatGPT or DALL-E.  I believe one of the reasons for striving for accomplishments is to have people around you witness them and celebrate your successes with you, and some might be willing to assist. And think of the network you make as you move through life as something you can fall back on when you need a hand to get you to your next goal.