Hispanics Who Have Led the Way in Math

We are in Hispanic Heritage Month, and the truth is you don’t hear nearly enough about Hispanics in math. Today’s post sets out to change that. The history of Hispanics in our country can be traced back to at least the 1500s (and obviously for modern day Hispanics with indigenous roots it goes WAY further back than that). Even though it might not always seem like it from reading some of the history books out there, Hispanics have long played a role in the formation of the United States.

Hispanics have also played and continue to play an important role in the world of mathematics. This is why we decided to tell you about some amazingly cool Hispanic leaders in the field of mathematics!

Jaime Escalante

He’s likely the most well known Hispanic math educator in the United States. Escalante was a Bolivian math teacher who was the subject behind the hit movie, “Stand And Deliver.” He moved to the United States in the 1960s. In 1974, he started teaching at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, which consisted of predominantly Hispanic students and was also known for drugs and violence. Despite the challenges, Escalante continued to have faith in his students and created an advanced mathematics program. In 1982, his largest class of students passed the advance placement Calculus test. However, the company later disqualified some of the students’ test scores and accused them of cheating. Escalante fought for his students and they once again took and passed the test.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Excellence and was inducted into the National Teachers Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2010. In 2016, the U.S. Postal Service honored him with a stamp.

Ruth Gonzalez 

Ruth Gonzalez was born in Houston, Texas to Mexican parents. You may have not have heard her name before but hopefully you remember it from here on out, as she is the first U.S.-born Hispanic woman to earn a doctorate degree in mathematics! Gonzalez graduated in 1986 from Rice University, and her thesis focused on computational mathematics. She received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics at the University of Texas where she also did research and obtained her master’s degree in the same subject. After graduation, Gonzalez became a geophysical mathematician for Exxon Mobile. What do geophysical mathematicians do? Well, she helped develop technology that allows specialists decide where to drill for oil and gas. You know, simple stuff (insert EXTREME sarcasm).

Carlos Castillo-Chavez

Castillo-Chavez is a mathematician who works towards keeping you healthy and safe every day. Castillo-Chavez came to the U.S. from Mexico in the 1970s. He obtained his Ph.D in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His main area of expertise is in mathematical epidemiology, which focuses on the underlying spread of diseases, their containment, and elimination.

Ready for his credentials? He’s the current Rector at Yachay Tech University in Urcuquí, Ecuador, he’s a Regents professor at Arizona State University (the highest faculty honor for professor in their field of expertise), Professor of Mathematical Biology at Arizona State University (ASU) and the executive director of the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute and Institute for Strengthening the Understanding of Mathematics and Science as well as the founding director of the Simon A. Levin Mathematical, Computational Modeling Sciences Center, also at ASU.

Erika Camacho

Camacho is an Assistant Professor in the School of Mathematical & Natural Sciences at Arizona State University. She received her Ph.D in Applied Mathematics from Cornell University. In an example of the impact a teacher can make and how better education can truly change lives, Camacho, who was born in Mexico, grew up in East Los Angeles and credits her teacher, Jaime Escalante, for much of her success! Escalante encouraged her to apply to Wellesley where she would eventually graduate cum laude, obtaining her bachelor’s degrees in both Economics and Mathematics. Camacho grew up in a very poor household and remembers going to high school with holes in her shoes. She aspired to become a cashier.

According to her ASU profile, “Her current research is at the interface of mathematics, biology, physiology, and sociology and involves mathematically modeling degenerative eye diseases, gene networks within yeast, social networks, alcohol effects on a neuron firing, and fungal resistance under selective pressure.” Simple enough!

Camacho hopes to change the landscape of the world of mathematics by increasing efforts towards diversity.

Right there you have just learned about just four of many incredibly impressive Hispanics who have worked in the mathematics field from the high school level on up –  who may have impacted your daily life and even health without you realizing it!

Time and time again we talk about the importance of math and why it matters but making sure students have teachers and mentors who represent them is key to education as well. That’s something we realize at 7 Generation Games and why we are in the process of developing our second really awesome bilingual game!

Don’t forget to check them out!

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