Math Graduate Prepares for Career Using Statistics to Fight Infectious Disease

April 14, 2020 | Features, News, UToday, UToledo20, Natural Sciences and Mathematics
By Jon Meerdink



Jenna Bedrava is comfortable with uncertainty.

Sure, it doesn’t sound that way. After all, she’s graduating May 9 from The University of Toledo with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics with a concentration in statistics and a minor in public health, a well-defined major if there ever was one. But uncertainty — and the battle against it — have defined her time at UToledo, leading her to a career path where she’ll join the fight against infectious disease on the front lines.

Graduation Cap

CELEBRATING SUCCESS: During this time when we cannot come together to celebrate our graduates, UToledo is recognizing the Class of 2020 with a series of feature stories on students who are receiving their degrees. Help us celebrate our newest UToledo alumni. Visit utoledo.edu/commencement to share a message of support to graduates and come back online Saturday, May 9, to take part in the virtual commencement ceremony.

Bedrava arrived at UToledo without a major, but that was part of the appeal.

“Coming in undecided was the reason I chose The University of Toledo,” she said. “A lot of my high school friends had very specific things they wanted to do. I was the only one who didn’t. They all chose schools based on their degrees, and a lot of them didn’t even end up graduating with those degrees.”

Banking on UToledo’s support for undecided students, she quickly connected with success coach Malaika Bell. Together, they identified a major of mathematics with a concentration in actuarial sciences by the end of her freshman year while also working through the challenge of avoiding comparisons to high school classmates who identified academic paths much earlier.

“We met regularly during her first year,” Bell said. “During these meetings, we discussed the fact that she should not compare her real-life experiences at UToledo to the highlight reel of her friends at other universities.”

But when a health incident landed her in the hospital, Bedrava wanted to try something new. Her academic advisor steered her toward statistics, coupling her math background with her growing interest in public health.

“Of course, I’d taken a bunch of stats classes before, but I’d never thought of getting a degree in it,” Bedrava said. “I realized that you can do so much with stats.”

Jenna Bedrava, who will graduate May 9 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, is a member of Chi Omega sorority at UToledo. She plans to continue her education toward a career in biostatistics to help fight infectious diseases.

It proved to be the perfect fit. Bedrava pursued and landed a key research opportunity at the University of Michigan, studying the emerging and in-demand field of biostatistics. She connected with a fellow student who studied infectious diseases, a perfect medical application for her statistics skills.

Public health depends on statistics to inform policy decisions. Government and health organizations need reliable data to coordinate responses, and someone with statistical experience and public health understanding can provide just that, helping to stop the spread of disease by identifying where it may pop up next. Someone with Bedrava’s interests could be uniquely positioned to help in our current health climate — or one like it in the future.

“There are definitely people who do what I want to do working on COVID-19 and that’s really interesting,” she said. “I’m definitely excited to research infectious disease, and, hopefully, I can do that in my master’s program. It’s something I’ve been interested in, and this has only increased that.”

She’ll begin pursuing a master’s degree in biostatistics at the University of Michigan this fall, with plans to continue on to pursue a Ph.D., though she’s not certain yet. But as Bedrava can tell you, a little uncertainty is OK. She overcame it at UToledo and has gone on to thrive in a unique program built to suit her interests.

“It’s really meaningful having something specific you’re going into that you’re really passionate about,” she said. “Obviously, it’s a lot different than when I was as a freshman. Either way, I think Toledo has been great in finding the resources I need.”