Success Stories

Biological Diversity graduate student Maria Silva translates reaching for the trees to research

Maria Silva at her 2023 undergraduate Commencement

Maria Silva at her 2023 undergraduate Commencement

Growing up in Brazil, Maria Silva had a world of field research opportunities at her fingertips. “I was surrounded by nature as a child; I could literally pick fruit from the trees,” the Western Connecticut State University graduate student said. When her family relocated to Naugatuck when she was 15, Silva experienced Connecticut’s varied seasons for the first time. “In Brazil, it’s always summer,” Silva said. “In Connecticut, we have all the seasons. It made me rethink my desire to study medicine to learn more about ecology.”

As a Naugatuck High School student, Silva was recruited to join WCSU’s swim team and was excited to see the university’s new Science Building and its degree options in Biology. Originally enrolled as a pre-med student in the Biology, Professional Option program, Silva soon changed her major to Biology, Bioscience, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2023.

After graduation, Silva tried to find a research job and soon realized that the most desirable jobs required a master’s degree. So, a semester after her undergraduate graduation, she re-enrolled at WCSU to pursue a Master of Science in Integrative Biology Diversity.

“The great thing about WestConn is that the classes are small and there are more opportunities to talk to and build relationships with your professors,” Silva said. “There are also lots of research options where you are working directly with a faculty member while gaining experience.”

While taking her graduate-level biology courses part-time, Silva also works part-time for Biology Department Chair Dr. Dora Pinou. “I’m helping Dr. Pinou as the ‘Finding Our Way’ Research Coordinator and Communicator,” Silva said. “I manage the program’s website, maintain all the forms and documentation, send the necessary deadlines and information to middle school and high school teachers, and coordinate the application process for the Summer Watershed Steward Ambassador Program.”

Silva has enhanced the Finding Our Way website significantly by organizing the content and providing links to NOAA resources in Spanish for Danbury Public School students and their families. Bilingual in Portuguese and English herself, Silva understands how providing the information in multiple languages can benefit students and their parents.

Now in her fifth year on campus as an undergraduate, then graduate student and now as an employee, Silva said, “My overall experience at WCSU has been great. Ever since I started in 2019, the faculty and staff have made me feel welcomed and safe. While pursuing my undergraduate degree I was also working full time at a pizzeria. It was not easy, but I was able to apply myself academically and reach my goal of being on the Dean’s List multiple semesters.

“I was able to balance school and work thanks to the flexibility my professors had with me,” she continued. “I found a way to study and attend classes in the mornings and work full time at night; usually until 1 a.m. This was the only option I had because I was paying for school without taking any loans nor having aid for my tuition. I am very grateful to my professors who were always understanding if I needed an extension or some extra help. Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Kristin Giamanco is one of the professors who made my undergraduate experience so wonderful; she is really approachable and made cell biology very interesting and fun.”

Now pursuing her master’s degree, Silva said Biology Department Chair Dr. Dora Pinou “has been another inspiration and great mentor during the beginning of my graduate journey. She hired me as the outreach coordinator for the NOAA B-Wet Finding Our Way program and we have been working together to finalize this year’s grant goals. This work together with my time as a substitute teacher at Danbury High School has stimulated my interest in science communication. I was able to see that we are lacking manpower in this vital field and that there is a whole community waiting to be educated and informed about their watershed and overall environment.”

As for the future, Silva has her focus on research. “I definitely want to be doing research because I am interested in the science behind it and the data analysis,” she said. “It can be in a lab or in the field, but research is what I want to pursue.”



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