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PAHS alumna promotes careers in math

MOTIVATE+-+During+her+presentations+to+the+AP+Calculus+class%2C+Ms.+Heather+Shappell+explains+her+career+in+biostatistics+and+where+her+career+has+taken+her+in+life.+Ms.+Shappell+spoke+to+all+honors+and+AP+math+classes+along+with+the+Introduction+to+Statistics+class.+%E2%80%9COne+piece+of+advice+that+I+can+give+to+all+students+is+that+you+do+not+have+to+be+a+genius+to+go+into+a+math+career.+If+you+work+really+hard+and+get+involved+in+an+area+of+math+that+you+enjoy%2C+it+can+get+you+a+long+way%2C%E2%80%9D+Ms.+Shappell+said.
MOTIVATE - During her presentations to the AP Calculus class, Ms. Heather Shappell explains her career in biostatistics and where her career has taken her in life. Ms. Shappell spoke to all honors and AP math classes along with the Introduction to Statistics class. “One piece of advice that I can give to all students is that you do not have to be a genius to go into a math career. If you work really hard and get involved in an area of math that you enjoy, it can get you a long way,” Ms. Shappell said.

MOTIVATE - During her presentations to the AP Calculus class, Ms. Heather Shappell explains her career in biostatistics and where her career has taken her in life. Ms. Shappell spoke to all honors and AP math classes along with the Introduction to Statistics class. “One piece of advice that I can give to all students is that you do not have to be a genius to go into a math career. If you work really hard and get involved in an area of math that you enjoy, it can get you a long way,” Ms. Shappell said.

Allura McCuller

Allura McCuller

MOTIVATE - During her presentations to the AP Calculus class, Ms. Heather Shappell explains her career in biostatistics and where her career has taken her in life. Ms. Shappell spoke to all honors and AP math classes along with the Introduction to Statistics class. “One piece of advice that I can give to all students is that you do not have to be a genius to go into a math career. If you work really hard and get involved in an area of math that you enjoy, it can get you a long way,” Ms. Shappell said.

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When Dr. Heather Shappell, a 2007 PAHS graduate, finished her graduate program at Boston University, she felt like she needed to do more with the knowledge she had built thus far in her career than just continuing with her daily work duties. That is when the idea sprouted to bring what she had learned back home, specifically to students at PAHS.

Dr. Shappell presented to students in honors and AP math classes along with the Introduction to Statistics class for the majority of the school day March 16. Her presentation discussed key components of a career in biostatistics and her educational journey since she left PAHS.

After she graduated in 2007, Dr. Shappell attended Arcadia University where she earned her degree in math and computer science. She then continued her education at Boston University where she graduated with master’s and doctorate degrees in biostatistics. While there, she taught online classes and was able to secure a job right out of college.

Dr. Shappell is currently working on her postdoctoral program from Johns Hopkins University. She is involved with neuroimaging research and aids in clinical trials for children with Progeria, a rare genetic disease that affects children and causes their aging process to continue in a rapid manner. Dr. Shappell plans to continue this while working to obtain a teaching position at the university.

“The best thing that Dr. Shappell taught me through her presentation was that no matter what, you will face some sort of difficulties in your career, but how you get through it shows your true character,” senior Julia Brinich said. “It was amazing to see all of the paths that a math career can take you on. Although I don’t like math that much, it was still enjoyable to see what your can do with a degree in that field.”

Presentations were held in the planetarium to accommodate some fairly large audiences. During each presentation, Dr. Shappell took students through the tasks she completes on a daily basis. Her career in biostatistics has come to encompass three broad topics: calculus, computer programming and biology. She explained how her career deals with the interpretation of raw data and how she is able to use data to answer research questions in medicine, biology and public health.

Dr. Shappell put a heavy emphasis on staying motivated to succeed in a career, no matter how difficult it may become. She stated that going into a field like biostatistics comes with setbacks in research and data, so one needs to be prepared to deal with and move on from something like that.

“What seemed to help me to succeed in college and ultimately secure a job for right out of my college graduation was that I built a strong portfolio throughout my years at Arcadia and Boston University. I took part in a lot of undergraduate research programs, and I attended a summer math program in Tennessee where there were graph theory projects to study,” Dr. Shappell said. “It is also very beneficial to build strong relationships with your professors because they can write you great recommendation letters for your future endeavors and help you get involved with research and extra work for your major.”

While presenting, Dr. Shappell gave students a first-hand experience with statistics and data in the real world. She showed students the statistics behind a common card game. It exemplified the probability of Dr. Shappell being able to accurately guess which type of card would be pulled from a 52-card stack.

“It was pretty cool that [Dr. Shappell] got my card right. I still wonder how she managed to do it because I watched pretty closely and I was completely amazed when she said my card. I guess it all goes back to her central lesson on statistics,” junior Evan Spevak said.

Mr. David Sterner, head teacher of the math department, worked with school administrators to allow Dr. Shappell to speak with students. He thought it would be a good idea for students to be exposed to the careers that a math degree can lead to and ultimately answer the “When am I ever going to need this?” question that so many of his students ask on a daily basis.  

“Dr. Shappell reached out to me to try to do something that would encourage students to get involved in a math-based career. She wanted to show students some of the neat research that she has been involved with to hopefully try and excite students, especially females, with careers in math,” Mr. Sterner said. “Dr. Shappell and I have kept contact since she left PAHS, as she is my first student with her doctorate degree, and she basically just wanted to do more for her high school with the degree she has.”

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