Make The Connection

December 2, 2019 | By Madison Bridger ’21

Leia Ashikawa ’21 presented the results of her National Science Foundation-Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) project during Ohio Wesleyan’s fall Summer Science Research Symposium. (Photo by Paul Vernon)

MAPPERing New Paths

Ohio Wesleyan Student Uses Mathematical Algorithms to Explore Ohio’s Congressional Districts

Name: Leia Ashikawa ’21
Hometown: Arlington, Vermont
Majors: Data Analytics and Politics and Government
OWU Connection Experience: “MAPPERing Communities of Interest,” a National Science Foundation-Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) project

Ashikawa worked on a research project using Hierarchical Clustering and Mapper algorithms to explore Ohio’s congressional districts based on communities of interest, or groups that share similar demographics including economic interests, socioeconomic status, and political ideologies.

She and other researchers found that Mapper created a more detailed explanation of the redistricting. Their goal was to identify patterns that potentially could be used to create a new congressional district map. Their work was overseen by Courtney Thatcher, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

Combining Two Disparate Majors

“Majoring in two completely different fields, I wanted to be involved with either an internship or research program that was interdisciplinary.

“I believe everything in life involves math in some sort of way, and it’s very important to use math in real-world applications. This REU used math and computer science to look into electoral redistricting, which was very appealing to me.”

My Favorite Moments

“The people were my favorite part of the experience, and, in particular, the discussions we had, both during our time of research and at our shared home.

“The beauty of an interdisciplinary research is being involved with people who have different backgrounds and knowledge; I not only learned a lot, especially about coding, gerrymandering, and redistricting, but I was able to open my perspective and understanding of various fields.

“In addition to our research, we were fortunate to receive lectures from math and political science professors from across the nation. Hearing their stories and experiences inspired me to visualize new possibilities for my future.

“There are more options than originally thought, and, with the right drive, I know I can find myself successful in any of them.”

Lessons Learned

“During my REU, we had certain times to learn Python, to discuss court cases relating to gerrymandering, and to discuss in our particular groups. In each allotted time, I learned various skill sets pertaining to the individual section.

“From the program, I gained more motivation toward envisioning my future, and what I need to do to work toward it to succeed. In addition, I am still in contact with everyone from this REU, some of whom are similar majors and want to have similar careers. Meeting people who can motivate and encourage you is incredibly important toward success.

“I learned the importance of being assertive, especially in a group setting and doing research. We had specific tasks, but we also had to look for tasks, talk to others if our work was done, and if we needed help, etc. I was so used to receiving tasks, but, in a research setting, I learned that I need to step in, be more assertive, and take charge.”

Why I Chose OWU

“I wanted to attend a small, liberal arts college and when I visited OWU, I felt at home. For a small liberal arts college, there are so many majors and traveling opportunities offered, which really appealed to me and I wanted to be a part of.” 

My Plans After Graduation

“After graduation, I plan to get a master’s degree in either data analytics or statistics. I would eventually like to further my education in political science as well, specifically focusing on human rights.

“Long term, I want to do research in some sort of human rights work. Being half Japanese and having spent half of my time in Japan, I would really like to work in a way that connects the U.S. and Japan.”