Written By: Tiffany Whitfield

Old Dominion University alumnus, Dr. Candice Gerstner, was awarded the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) from the White House.

Gerstner works as an Applied Research Mathematician for the National Security Agency in the Department of Defense. Gerstner said, “I was and still am very honored to have received the prestigious PECASE award.”

She was nominated by her supervisors for the advances that she made to help the government. “I utilized machine learning to develop automated techniques at cloud scale to distinguish between machine and human generated textual content, extract content from images of structured documents, and detect manipulated digital images,” said Gerstner. This award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. government for scientists beginning their careers.

“I had a life-long dream to be a mathematician for NASA,” said Gerstner. She contributes her love for math to the lessons of her father and her math teachers. “I spent my summers doing basic math and collecting membership money at my father’s gym which laid the foundation for my quest for knowledge in mathematics,” said Gerstner. This love blossomed through primary and secondary school. “I was fortunate to have some great math teachers, which helped to keep my interest and strive for perfection.”

When she received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Computational and Applied Mathematics from ODU her dream became a reality. She worked alongside NASA scientists and was a part of a team at ODU that worked on modeling the transport of particles for space radiation applications.

All of the professors in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics helped her in one way or another while she pursued both of degrees. Dr. John Tweed was one of the most influential faculty members she had. “Dr. Tweed really took me under his wing and gave me the opportunity to work with him on both my masters and PhD theses, and he was the one that made my dream of working for NASA a reality,” said Gerstner.

The mentorship she received from Dr. Tweed is something she models in her current position. “I am forever grateful for his mentorship and have been doing my best to give back to the mathematics community by mentoring many of the mathematicians that come through the agency within their first few years,” said Gerstner.

Gerstner said, “I use the computational and reasoning skills that I learned almost every day in my job.” In her current position she develops innovative approaches to improve mathematical techniques in machine learning, and related fields. “In particular, I have developed new approaches to improve Generative Adversarial Networks and Image/Video Authentication capabilities,” said Gerstner.

For anyone considering pursing a graduate degree in mathematics at ODU Gerstner has some advice, “I would tell them that if they love math and want to learn how to apply their skills to practical problems, they are in a great place.” She believes more women should pursue careers in STEM too. “Diversity is extremely important for real advances to be made in STEM-related fields and women sometimes have a different way of thinking about a problem, which can and has led to breakthroughs in the past,” said Gerstner.