Matthew Widjaja Models Relationships Between Endangered and Invasive Species

Matthew Widjaja knew he wanted to study Computer Science, but he was equally passionate about Biology. While flipping through the pages of “Who’s Fred,” a Stockton College admissions pamphlet, he found a major that blended his two interests.

Stockton’s Computational Science program, which uses mathematics and computer technology to solve problems that arise in a variety of sciences, “combined the two perfectly, so I went for it. It just made sense,” said Widjaja, a Williamstown native.

Matthew Widjaja presented his research on the relationships between endangered and invasive specie at the Northeast Regional Honors Council Conference in Niagara Falls, New York in April.

Matthew Widjaja presented his research on the relationships between endangered and invasive specie at the Northeast Regional Honors Council Conference in Niagara Falls, New York in April. Photo: Lisa Rosner, Distinguished Professor of History

Now a senior with five graduate-level courses already down, Widjaja is about halfway through the Master of Science in Computational Science (MSCP) program, and he couldn’t be happier about the decision he made four years ago. “I love it. At the time, Stockton was the only school that offered Computational Science. I never would have found this field if I didn’t come to Stockton,” he said.

After receiving his undergraduate diploma this May, he will take one more year of classes to earn a master’s degree.

Widjaja sought out research opportunities to apply the concepts from his classwork to a real-life problem. Research gives meaning to academic coursework and offers connections that extend past the classroom, he explained.  After informal discussions with Dr. Jason Shulman, an assistant professor of Physics, he found a research problem.

With Shulman’s guidance, Widjaja is modeling an ecological network to help predict endangered and invasive species’ populations. The “healthy relationship” between predators and prey within an ecosystem is interrupted when invasive species are introduced. Widjaja explained that a non-native species may not have a natural predator in its new environment, sometimes resulting in an uncontrolled population boom that has adverse effects on native species.

He is working with synthetic laboratory data that represents an “incredibly complicated and large network” to “build an equation that represents a population,” he said.

“I never knew I would be interested in it, but I’ve fallen in love with modeling ecosystems,” he said.

For Widjaja, the harder the problem, the more interesting and rewarding it is. When he encounters a barrier, he steps back to brainstorm another approach. Working with coding languages has taught him to think differently.

“Matthew is a productive student who demonstrates all of the qualities of a promising scientist. He keeps an incredibly busy schedule but still manages to stop by my office every few days to discuss his latest results. He also found time to work on a second network project (electrical research) with Frank Malatino, a physics student.  Their poster tied for first place in the NAMS student symposium poster competition on April 25,” said Shulman.

Since his sophomore year, Widjaja has been involved in a number of web communications projects as a student worker in the college’s Office of External Affairs. He’s delved deeper into web development languages such as HTML and CSS.

Widjaja is a member of the Stockton Honors Program, serving as the public relations director his sophomore year and then as the student assistant director last year. Outside his academic schedule, he focuses much of his energy on building the Honors Program—it’s his way of giving back to the program that has given him so much. “I put everything into the Honors Program because of what it gave me my freshman year, the instant community bonding and the great professors,” he explained.

At the beginning of April, he presented his ecosystem mapping research at the Northeast Regional Honors Council Conference in Niagara Falls, New York.

Widjaja enjoys video editing and photography and captures footage and images everywhere he travels with friends and family. At the end of the year, he compiles the footage and shares it through a video journal to chronicle his adventures.

iFish is the tech-savvy name he gave his pet fish.

To his fellow classmates, he says to “network and be the best you can be. You can be elite in any field you want as long as you’re passionate.”

“It’s never too late to reach your destination; you just might have to take a different route. There’s a lot to say about the journey and its lessons.”

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