Marisabel Rodriguez Messan

ORISE Research Fellow, U.S. Food and Drug Administration


Marisabel Rodriguez Mesan was born in Mexico City and grew up in Reynosa, a city in the Northeast of Mexico bordering Texas. From an early age, she enjoyed mathematics for its fun, dynamic, and creative feeling. Besides mathematics, she also enjoyed drawing, painting, and crafting.  After completing her high school education in Reynosa, she moved to Edinburg, Texas, to pursue her undergraduate education at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Since she has always been fascinated by the arts and design, Marisabel decided to pursue a graphic design degree. However, she realized that her real passion was mathematics because it allowed her to use creative and artistic skills, which she found fulfilling. Therefore, she changed her major and earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from UTRGV in 2011. Marisabel knew she wanted to pursue a postgraduate degree; thus, she obtained a Master of Science in Applied Mathematics in 2013 from UTRGV. While in the master’s program, she was encouraged by Dr. Maria Cristiana Villalobos, a Professor at UTRGV, to attend The Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute (MTBI) at Arizona State University (ASU), a two-month intensive summer program recognized and honored by the White House with the 2011 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM). While at MTBI, she was exposed to a wider range of mathematical applications and had no doubt that she wanted to pursue a doctorate. Hence, she applied to the Mathematics Department at ASU, where she was accepted with full tuition support and a teaching assistantship.

The path as a Ph.D. student was not easy for Marisabel at the beginning; however, she quickly realized that she needed to believe more in her capabilities, and a support group from other fellow students was the key to success. She completed her Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics under the direction of Dr. Yun Kang, a mathematics Professor at ASU. Marisabel’s Ph.D. dissertation focused on the study of social insects’ interactions, specifically how their complex division of labor contributes to the successful organization and efficiency of their colony by using mathematical models based on dynamical system theory and ecological and evolutionary dynamics theory. After earning her Ph.D. in 2018 from ASU, she took a one-year visiting lecturer position in the Department of Mathematics at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. At Dartmouth, Marisabel had the amazing opportunity to lead a classroom, interact with students, and mentor and was a role model representing women and minorities in STEM. Then in 2019, she joined the Data Science Initiative Center at Brown University in Rhode Island as part of a postdoctoral position from the Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational, and Modeling Sciences Center at ASU that she took in July 2019. Nonetheless, due to her husband, also a mathematician, relocating to Maryland, she quickly explored other opportunities in Maryland, including those in the government. In December 2019, Marisabel joined the Analytics and Benefit-Risk Assessment (ABRA) team under the Office of Biostatistics and Epidemiology in the Center of Biologics Evaluation and Research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an ORISE (Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education) Research Fellow. At the FDA, she has been working on various projects related to the study and understanding of immunogenicity in cancer immunotherapies. One of her recent works uses dynamical systems theory and statistical methods to develop a mechanistic mathematical model to better understand the complex interactions between the human immune response and novel cancer immunotherapies, e.g., personalized cancer vaccines. The work of this research has been accepted for publication in PLOS Computational Biology.

Marisabel has kept in touch with some of her students while at Dartmouth to provide advice and support in their educational paths. Although at the moment she is not part of an official mentoring group/organization, she would love to become part of one and contribute by mentoring minority students and recent graduates.

Some advice Marisabel would give to an undergraduate student in any STEM major wanting to work in academia, industry, or government is that this is the right time to look at the arsenal of skills they have gathered and to make sure their course work reflects an interdisciplinary training. “Make sure you are exposed to and have some knowledge in some programming languages, statistical methods, and a solid foundation in mathematics. Also, start building your professional network, attend conferences, and present your research so that you gain confidence and learn from others. One last thing would be that whenever you are at the stage of applying/looking for a job, do not be afraid of applying to any job and do not feel defeated for not getting a certain job. If one door did not open, another one will.”

“Hispanic Heritage Month is a time for us Latinx and Hispanics to make noise! This month, we celebrate and recognize those who have come before us and have served as role models and have shown us that all is possible. It is also a time to highlight and celebrate those who are making small and big contributions in science, arts, and in our communities. Hispanic Heritage Month is the time to show the world how proud we are of our beautiful and diverse cultures and to display the richness of this country through our contributions.”