Reflections on the 2018 Latinx in Mathematics Conference

This is a guest post from Emilia Alvarez, an amazing undergraduate student at Concordia University.

I’ve had a few days to think about my experience at the 2018 Latinx in the Mathematical Sciences Conference, and in sharing my thoughts, I hope to convey two things. The first is deep gratitude for the organizers and participants who created a comfortable and diverse community environment that fostered respect and growth, and even ended with me learning to salsa dance! The second thing I wish to convey is an urgency of just how important this type of event is, how beneficial it is, and why I would encourage students to seek out, participate, and even help organize more of these kinds of events.

First for some context: LatMath is a conference for undergraduates, graduate students, as well as postdocs and all levels of faculty, which highlights Latinx mathematicians, with a strong emphasis on mentorship and inclusion. Students were invited to present a poster, and those of us who did got to participate in a morning session on the first day on how to effectively present research. We were given explicit and constructive feedback from a faculty mentor and group of peers. It was awesome!! We were able to put that feedback to use during the poster session later that afternoon. Throughout the weekend, there were panels about graduate school, summer programs, and about careers in business, academia and industry. The conference was sprinkled with “networking” opportunities, mostly in the form of question prompts at the breakfast/lunch/supper tables, where we were encouraged to meet new people. This is a sign of a great conference; you know you’re in a comfortable, inclusive environment when you’re perfectly at ease striking up a conversation with a participant that you haven’t met. I’m grateful for the speakers, the participants and most of all for the organizers of the conference who made this happen. I’ve had the fortune of attending a number of conferences and workshops, and I believe they’ve been a major part of my growth as a mathematics student. I’ve met some of my closest friends at conferences and events, who contribute to my support network and who undoubtedly will one day be collaborators. These extra-curricular events have taught me how to communicate my interests and knowledge to a variety of audiences, they’ve exposed me to new opportunities through summer schools and mini courses, and as such helped me situate my undergraduate learning within a much larger framework of what it means to be a part of the mathematics community. I met peers who shared their experiences with me, and it really helps me to see that I’m not alone. Another awesome conversation that carried through the weekend about how as mathematicians we don’t need to leave our personalities at the door.

Here’s where the urgency to support these kinds of events comes in. I haven’t been exposed to a socially engaged mathematics community, and I was thrilled to see that it is alive and well and doing amazing work. As a mathematics student, I love what I study; I love the beauty of the many branches of math and am so grateful to be studying it. But as a human being, I want to contribute to my community, and that’s not an aspect that’s emphasized in an undergraduate education. Indeed, one point that was made often throughout the conference was that we shouldn’t make a distinction between pure and applied mathematics. Even more so, if our beautiful theorems and creative problem solving skills can have social importance, as the ultra inspiring Dr. Moon Duchin and Dr. Lily Khadjavi discussed in their respective talks, then isn’t that amazing?? I was super excited to see that my interests as a mathematics student and as a socially engaged human could be consolidated. The breadth of brilliant work was astounding; Dr. Rochelle Gutiérrez‘ profound insight and thoughts on education, accessibility, and re-humanization resonated so strongly and provided a myriad of deeper questions for me to think about. I would encourage everyone to check out her work, as I couldn’t do justice to her brilliantly articulated ideas.

I’m at the end of my undergraduate degree, and in the midst of making the decision of where I’ll be starting my graduate studies in the Fall, so this was a very interesting time to participate. I got advice and feedback from other students and faculty, and was invigorated with an excitement for how to contribute to the mathematics community. These types of events, and meeting these mentors and role models, encourages me to actively participate in the mathematics community, and think about how to make that participation possible for all my peers who want to contribute.

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