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Julienne Kabre

Up to 84 percent of college students are “non-traditional” students, according to the consulting firm Stamats. In other words, they are not age 18-22, supported by their parents, living on campus and in school full-time. They may be returning to school after working and are often among the best students a university has.

Julienne Kabre

This is the story of one such non-traditional student, Ph.D. candidate Julienne Kabre. Kabre is from Burkina Faso in West Africa, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics before coming to the United States in 2000. For nine years, she owned a small business in Chicago.

“In 2010, I decided to go back to school,” she recounts. “I got a master’s in applied mathematics at another university in Chicago in 2012, and then applied for the Ph.D. program at IIT.”

Kabre works with Xiaofan Li, professor of applied mathematics, on Poisson-Nernst-Planck equations, a system of nonlinear partial differential equations (PDEs) that describe the flow of charged particles in solution. In particular, they are interested in the transport of ions in the biological membrane proteins (ion channels). When she was doing her master’s, she did something related--PDEs to solve chemistry problems.

“Knowing how transport of ions is happening is very important and can help us better understand diseases like osteopetrosis, which are related to some kind of malfunction of ion channels,” Kabre said. The ions are charged, transient, and dynamic; the researchers use computer simulations of the mathematical models and a variety of numerical schemes to capture the distribution of the unimaginably small ions, with tiny electrical currents.

Kabre has co-authored two papers on her research, including “A conservative finite difference scheme for Poisson–Nernst–Planck equations” in the Journal of Computational Electronics.

She has participated in and presented at a number of conferences, such as the annual Annual Midwest Women in Mathematics Symposium, held recently at Dominican University, and at the Joint Mathematics Meeting in Seattle. She also is a member of the Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).

She is currently writing her thesis, and thinking ahead to life after Illinois Tech. “I’d like to apply to both academia and industry jobs,” she said. “Even if I am in industry, I’d love to have the opportunity to keep doing research.” Her research area has wide application; it can be used for any physical system that can be modeled mathematically.

Kabre is glad that she chose applied mathematics at Illinois Institute of Technology. “At times, the program was very challenging,” Kabre said. “But I really liked it. I was able to go to professors, ask questions, form study groups with other students. I never had any problem getting help if I asked.

“I hope more students will choose to come to IIT,” she said. “This is a good program. It can be challenging at times, but you want to be challenged. It is more satisfying when you are done.”