Grad Profile: For Melissa Marchand, it all adds up to math

Melissa Marchand
Melissa Marchand is the Outstanding Graduating Senior for Mathematics. Her Math Club T-shirt translates to "Keep it real - Don't be a jerk."
Melissa Marchand has always been a math geek, but thought the only career for math majors was teaching.

“I liked the sciences and so I had to narrow down which sciences I liked more,” she said. She didn’t think she’d make a good geologist, she was too accident prone for chemistry, and it was difficult to pronounce all the terms in biology.

She did like computers, so she declared computer science.

“But after two quarters, I missed doing math,” she said. So she switched to math with a minor in computer science. Happily, she learned at CSUB that there are far more career options than teaching for math majors.

Melissa is graduating Friday as the Outstanding Graduating Senior for mathematics, in part due to research she participated in at CSUB. The research demonstrated how applied mathematics can be used in a variety of ways in industry. Particularly, her research project has ramifications for the digital media industry.

“As we’re moving into the technological age, everything is on the Internet. So it’s easier to illegally get copies of stuff,” Melissa described. “Watermarks on digital media like films and images and music make it more secure. But you need to test the vulnerability because people can still try to mask the watermarks.”

Under the direction of Dr. Charles Lam and with fellow student Kevin Velado, Melissa built statistical attacks on digital watermarks to test their vulnerability – and they worked. The research shows that current watermarking techniques are not as secure as they need to be.

“Hopefully through our research people can find better ways to watermark films,” Kevin said.

Melissa’s computer science minor came in handy for this research as well.

“This research requires her to understand the mathematics of the digital watermarking attacks that we work on, and to program the computationally heavy simulations on the computer. Her special combination of applied mathematics major with a minor in computer science helped us deal with both the mathematical and computational aspects of the research,” Dr. Lam said.

The research resulted in first place in the Mathematical and Physical Sciences category at the CSUB Student Research Competition in both 2010 and 2011. Melissa also presented their research work at the Pacific Coast Undergraduate Mathematics Conference at Pepperdine in 2010, Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics at University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 2011, and at the CSU Honors Conference in Pomona in 2011.

Last summer, Melissa participated in the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute at Arizona State University researching the effect of oil spills on the Atlantic loggerhead turtle population.

Melissa comes from a low-income family and applied for as many scholarships and grants as possible to pay for school. Her hard work paid off. She is a Robert C. Byrd Honors recipient, a Hispanic Excellence Scholarship Fund recipient, and is one of the few students who participate for four years in the Hawk Honors Program and complete all requirements. She was both a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and a CSUB Student Research Scholar during her senior year.

She also worked in the CSUB Mathematics Tutoring Center to help fellow students with math difficulties and to help pay for school.

When Melissa is not focusing on her scholastic endeavors, she enjoys her hobby of being a part-time musician. She’s played bass guitar in the CSUB Jazz Ensemble throughout her four years at CSUB and even played for a short time in her cousin’s rock band, As the Crow Fly. She also plays the bass, clarinet and alto sax with her church choir at Central Baptist Church.

Melissa says she has grown a lot during her time at CSUB.

“I used to be a very introverted person. I didn’t like to associate with people much. Now I’ve been forced to give presentations of my research several times and speak in front of faculty so I’m more comfortable with public speaking,” she said.

And she’s not entirely discounting a future in academia – although she is still leaning toward a career in industry. After working as a research assistant this summer for CSUB’s REVS-UP program, Melissa will head off to Florida State University for the Applied and Computational Mathematics Ph.D. program. Melissa will work as a teacher’s assistant during the five-year program in exchange for free tuition and a small salary.

Following her brother, Melissa will be the second in her family to earn a Ph.D.

“Neither of my parents have a college degree. My mom had a learning disability so she would emphasize that all her children had to be smarter than her by going to school and getting a better education,” Melissa said.

You are doing your family and CSUB proud, Melissa. Congratulations on your graduation and we wish you the best in your future.