Jessica De Silva

NSF Graduate Research Fellow
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Department of Mathematics
Office: Avery 344

Welcome! I am a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. My research is in discrete mathematics and my advisor is Jamie Radcliffe.

I am an alumna of California State University, Stanislaus located in Turlock, CA. About 15 minutes away is the little town of Hilmar where I grew up. Known locally for its school spirit, out-of-towners may have heard of Hilmar for its claim to fame of being home of the Hilmar Cheese Company. This company's Hilmar facility produces more cheese per year from a single site than any other cheese manufacturer in the world!


I have had great math teachers throughout my childhood and this certainly influenced my choice to study mathematics. My goal in the classroom is to be approachable, engaging, and to have a contageous positive attitude towards mathematics. As a graduate student, I have had the pleasure of teaching some of the most dedicated, successful, and motivated students at the university.

Recently, I was nominated to compete for the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools Excellence in Teaching Award. The nomination packet includes a ten minute video of me in the classroom. I am not teaching this semester and so I emailed all of my former students asking if they'd spend an hour with me learning some fun math in order to create this video. I never imagined that I would have received as much support as I did from them, and it was another reminder of how lucky I am to have taught these amazing people. Fourteen students representing College Algebra, Mathematical Modeling, and Calculus 2 were able to make it and it was extremely rewarding being able to share a little bit of my research with them. Here is the link to the ten minute video if you were interested in watching:

Below are class photos we took at the end of the semester, along with just some accomplishments of my students.

College Algebra Fall 2014

This was the first class I ever taught and I could not have asked for better students. I am most proud of this class for their Preliminary Mastery Exam (PME) performance. Four outstanding athletes represented Husker swimming (ranked 10th in the nation!), women's basketball, track, and football. One student was accepted into the Honors program the following year and others have gone on to take Business Calculus, Trigonometry, and Calculus. It's crazy to think that many of these students are seniors and possibly graduating this year (I know one is definitely graduating in December, woohoo!). Recently, I've learned that one is managing a branch of a local commercial bank, another graduated summa cum laude and is in a management position for an automotive part manufacturer, even another is in graduate school(!), and many are pursuing internships related to their fields of study. These students are truly rockstars.

College Algebra Spring 2015

This class was a third of the size of the fall semester class, but the same amount of character. A member of the UNL rodeo team, a fashion design major, and a PGA golf management major was just some of the makeup of this brilliant class. One student had the opportunity to participate in a summer internship at the Moore Farms Botanical Garden (she blogged her experience here). She is currently the manager at a local greenhouse. Another recently began the nursing program at the University of Nebraska Medical Center after completing prerequisite courses at UNL. I'm looking forward to attending the Omaha Fashion Week in March 2018 where one student's designs will be showcased! Our learning assistant graduated with his bachelor's in Engineering and entered a Ph.D. program in Mathematics Education the following year at the University of Maine.

Mathematical Modeling, Fall 2016

After a one year hiatis from teaching, I dove right back in with a class of almost forty future teachers. At 4PM these students ended their long day of classes with 75 minutes of mathematics, but their energy never dwindled. While becoming teachers is their goal, these students spend the rest of their time doing musical theater, running marathons, working at daycares, and playing in the UNL marching band. For most of them, this was their last semester before they started student teaching and it is great to hear that many of them have been accepted to student teach in the school districts of their choice.

Calculus 2, Spring 2017

For my last semester teaching at UNL, it was an honor to have taught a group of William H. Thompson Scholars. Although it is quite the privilege to teach a class of scholars, I was even more honored to be teaching a group of future leaders in STEM of many backgrounds: male, female, hispanic, first generation, etc. (even a twin!) Their majors include computer science, agricultural engineering, mathematics education, and biological systems engineering. Never having been around so many aspiring engineers, it was exciting to hear that students were competing nationally as members of UNL engineering clubs. One student builds rockets for the UNL Aerospace Club and another builds dune buggies for the Husker Racing Team. The handful of undeclared students are narrowing down their field of interest and experimenting with teaching mathematics by being Learning Assistants for our department's pre-calculus courses. The future is bright for these students and I am looking forward to seeing how they will continue to shine!

Research Interests

My research is in the area of discrete mathematics and I am particularly interested in problems which stem from extremal graph theory. When referring to an "extremal" problem, we typically aim to find the maximum or minimum value a parameter can attain. In graph theory, we often fix the number of vertices and number of edges and ask which graphs have the maximum or minimum value of a specified graph parameter (e.g., independent sets of size 3). If you are interested, here is a link to a talk I gave at the Iowa State Discrete Math Seminar. You may also find a list of papers in my CV at the top of this page or feel free to contact me via email.

  • Combinatorics
  • Graph Theory
  • Complexity
  • Coffee


I am currently organizing a conference to be held at Carnegie Mellon University for its undergraduate female mathematics majors. This conference is supported by the Institute for Advanced Study Women and Mathematics program and CMU's Mathematics Department. Check back in mid-January for a link to the conference webpage.

Programs in Discrete Mathematics

The following are programs in discrete mathematics that I have had the privilege of participating in over the years.

Rocky Mountain-Great Plains Graduate Research Workshop in Combinatorics

Sao Paolo Coding School

Undergraduate Opportunities

Below are programs that I have worked for as a graduate student or participated in myself as an undergraduate.

Summer Undergraduate Applied Mathematics Institute (SUAMI)

Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics

Mathematical Sciences Research Institute-Undergraduate Program

McNair Scholars Program

Other Opportunities

Some programs are for students in the inbetween stage of undergraduate and graduate school, while others are open to mathematicians in all stages of their career. In particular, the SAMS program is for high school students aiming to attend college with a STEM major.


Institute for Advanced Studies Program for Women and Mathematics

Summer Academy for Math and Science (SAMS)

Setting Goals

My mom is a huge fan of to-do lists. She scribbles words in the tiniest font on multiple pieces of scratch paper, held together (with her coupons) by a paper clip. These lists say things like 'pull the weeds,' 'pay bills,' and 'ladies day flowers.' There's a separate paper for the weekly grocery list and we often spend too much time trying to figure out if a scribble says 'milk' or 'mayo.' She also has separate columns that say 'Jessica,' 'Jason' [my brother], and 'Manuel' [my dad] with our corresponding to-do lists. You'd think that after moving away and starting graduate school I had forgotten about her lists, but that is far from the truth! Five years later and her phone calls never fail to start with her saying "Now I have a list for you..."

I have found myself making my own to-do lists in various forms. One of my most unique to-do lists is the section on my CV that is commented out. I started this as a junior in undergrad and since I wanted to go to graduate school, those commented items would say things like "%REU program," "%publish a paper," "%present at conferences." Some of these are still on my current CV (e.g., "%publish more papers"), and I have definitely added new ones "%mentor undergraduates," "%write a grant proposal," "%get my Ph.D." etc. Sometimes I didn't know what I should add, so I would look up the CVs of other people and see if there was anything they did that I also wanted to do some day. But everything on that list was on there for a reason, and the reason was that it would help me achieve whatever goal I had set for myself. Just like in the grocery store when you have your shopping list, you use it so you don't forget to buy more dish soap but also to deter you from buying that super awesome coffee cup that you really don't need. By having this list I was able to keep focused on what I needed to do and I was motivated by knowing everything I was doing had a purpose.

The goals I had set for myself at the start of graduate school was to get my Ph.D. and nail a tenure-track position. Goals definitely change (especially over the course of five years), but these goals of mine have stayed put. I am approaching the end of my graduate career and as I look towards the future I realized I need to start creating my to-do list as a tenure-track professor of mathematics (*knock on wood* that I can call myself this next fall). My to-do list hasn't necessarily gotten longer, but it has gotten denser because this list will help me achieve goals that go far beyond myself. This time around I have set goals that will hopefully make an impact on the rest of the world as well.

I am on the job market this year and part of the process of developing an application is to write a cover letter. Now most application materials are generic, in the sense that you write one teaching statement, one research statement, and one CV. But the cover letter is really where you *should* tailor it to the specific position and department you are applying to. This letter to the search committee, probably best referred to as a 'Letter of Interest,' is an opportunity for you to tell them not only why you are qualified for the position, but also why you are interested in working in their department. I have written a good number of cover letters so far (although still few compared to how many are left to do) and I learned a lot about what my professional goals are through this process.

If I haven't already learned about the department through people I know who work(ed) there, then my primary source of information is their website and, in particular, individual faculty webpages. Faculty pages give me an idea of what it would be like to work at that university, and I believe their CVs also reflect what the department values. I have come across a few pages that have made me think "I want to do things like that." and those instances have helped me shape the type of professor I want to become.

As a mathematician, I want to work on (and solve) fun problems, publish papers, and have a long list of collaborators at various places, both geographically and within their mathematical career. I plan on writing (and hopefully being awarded) internal and external grants to support my research, organize conferences, and develop programs to support underrepresented students. At conferences, I want to be the faculty member who purposely sits with students to learn all about them, offer advice, and to be a contact for any future questions/opportunities. I wish to provide service to my community in many ways, but certainly by working with future generations of mathematicians in primary and secondary schools. Above all, I want my students to know me for being an outstanding teacher and mentor. I know these are lofty goals, and I don't expect that I will achieve them within the first ten years of my career. Nevertheless I am excited to be starting this journey on my way to becoming a person who will make an impact.

I have also decided to write this at this time to show that my goals do not need to be a function of the position I will start in the fall. Too often is it the case that I tell someone I am seriously interested in a school where 4-4 is the teaching load and they tell me that teaching will then be the only thing I do. Now of course, that doesn't sound terrible for I am in this profession because I love to teach, but I believe that I will be able to attain these goals no matter where I go. This belief partly stems from the fact that I have met people who model what I want to become and it didn't matter if they were teaching a 4-4 or a 3-2, at a small school or a large school, at a private or public institution. Surely it will take me longer to achieve these goals at some places over others, but as long as I am supported in these endeavors I have no doubt that I will accomplish them.