There have been countless times that I have wondered to myself how I got here. By here, I mean: a first-generation woman of color navigating her way through a doctoral program in mathematics. As I reflect on my personal and academic upbringing, I think about all the obstacles set in place to prevent underrepresented students from furthering their careers. However, it is important to note this lack of support is not always present in every setting.
As an underrepresented first-generation student, academia is a space where we are marginalized. I did not want to pursue higher education only to be in a space that expected me to fail. When it came time to look for an undergraduate institution that can support me and encourage my success, I came across California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). CSUF, a public university located in Orange County, California, is a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), populated by large percentages of Hispanic/Latinx and first-generation students. Specifically, the mathematics department has served “between 2008 and 2020, out of 628 students who completed a degree from the CSUF programs in pure mathematics, applied mathematics, probability and statistics, and teaching mathematics, 198 were underrepresented minorities, 300 (48%) were women.” It is important to point out that while there are programs in the sciences that can improve on their diversity and inclusion practices and how they respond to and support the community of underrepresented students, it is also important to shine light on programs that are successfully serving the needs of their unique and vibrant students that come from many backgrounds and CSUF seems to be doing just that.
On my own personal account, I have come to realize the significance of being surrounded by a community that appreciates everyone from diverse backgrounds and welcomes the voices of everyone. This is something that is especially exceptional at CSUF. As unexpected as this came, during my time there I was surrounded by individuals, both students and faculty, who encouraged creativity and expression. Because of my academic influences coming from a low-income background, I was a student that never even considered the possibility of pursuing higher-level math beyond high school or even a bachelor’s degree and CSUF is where I first began to feel that it was possible.
I am fully aware, as a woman of color, that there are systemic hurdles in place that people of color often face. In an effort to combat this at the institutional and academic level, at CSUF, I was given a platform to seek connections that helped remove barriers for diverse students. I was very involved in on-campus student organizations, programs, and activities in my efforts to bring these issues to light. The goal of a lot of my involvements was to promote diversity, inclusivity, and a mutual love for mathematics in my community. In doing so, I was joined by a memorable group of people that shared this passion, individuals that I met through programs, in the classroom, and even in the office hours of our favorite professor. As a part of our promise to the community, we organized events annually, specifically Sonia Kovalevsky Day named after the well-known pioneer for women in mathematics. Events like this were designed to empower young students and to increase diversity in the mathematical sciences. I enjoyed being able to contribute to an event that would serve to greatly impact underrepresented groups, especially in a field as male-dominated as math. Activities like the ones I participated at CSUF are important to cultivate curiosity and the idea that anyone can do meaningful science because the time a student spends in academia is a crucial developing period that must be filled with support of dreams, possibilities, and access to the means that give opportunity to advance in society.
It was recently announced the Department of Mathematics at CSUF will be receiving the AMS Award for Mathematics Programs that Make a Difference. This award highlights programs that have successfully supported and addressed the issues of underrepresented groups in the mathematical sciences. I would like to acknowledge the department for being so deserving of this award because of their powerful endeavors to nurture community, enhance creativity, and support their one-of-a-kind students. My story is only one of so many more that can vouch for their success in making significant differences in underrepresented college students. My experience was truly unique and I credit this to not only encourage me to pursue graduate school, but to make me know that I would succeed in a program. Much like Dr. Andrea Arauza Rivera stated in a few blog posts back, community is important. During my time at CSUF, I learned the true value of community and I am carrying that with me to wherever my life and career takes me.
So, when I think about how I ended up here, I think about my time as an undergrad, but also everything that came before that. I came from a low-income, predominantly Latinx neighborhood in Southern California with limited resources, then attended a Hispanic-Serving Institution that not only celebrated me, but advocated for me, and now I am a doctoral student at a research university. Because of this experience, I know what I deserve as a student and aim for this kind of community in every step of my career.