Math and Hispanic Heritage Month

by Pam Meader

September marks the start of school, the end of summer vacations, and the coming of fall. It also marks the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage month which is September 15 through October 15. While our math team truly believes that people’s accomplishments should be celebrated all year long, it is still worthwhile and wonderful to focus on our communities that often are overlooked.

In preparing a resource sheet for teachers to utilize during this month, we became energized and excited by the famous Hispanic mathematicians and scientists we encountered. Take for example, Sabrina Gonzalez Pasterski, a Cubana and a top physicist from Harvard University who some dubbed “the next Einstein”. She wanted to attend MIT at the age of 14 but was waitlisted. While waiting, she built her own airplane and flew it. She sent a video of her work to MIT and was immediately accepted. As she said, she learned by doing and fixing things not memorizing mathematics. She loves being presented with problems that need solutions.

Then there is Nicole Hernandez Hammer, a climatologist who is taking her work to the streets of Miami. She is trying change the rising sea waters that bubble up and expose people to toxins, especially in poorer sections of the city.

Of course, a famous math teacher, Jaime Escalante, portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver, should be celebrated during this month. He worked with poor, disadvantaged youth in LA who most had given up on and taught them to excel, especially in mathematics. Here’s a tribute to the late math educator:

The list is endless and there are many individuals to celebrate. Encourage your students to research and share their findings on Latinx/Hispanics professionals in STEM. Every time a personality is shared provides a chance for students to feel connected and represented. We were especially moved by some interviews on YouTube where the person shared how it felt for them being underrepresented as they attended school.

One such individual was Patricia Valoy, who describes herself as a STEM-inist, a feminist in a male-dominated world:

There’s also Scalin Hernandez who also experienced bias and stereotyping as an immigrant to this country. She is now a spacecraft engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope. Here’s her story:

You can view a list of Latinx/Hispanic Heritage Math Resources at our Math SABES website.

Pam Meader, former high school math teacher and proud grandma, taught math in adult education for over 25 years. She is a senior professional development specialist for TERC’s Adult Numeracy Center. Most recently, she helped co-develop Adults Reaching Algebra Readiness (AR)2 with Donna Curry. She is a national trainer for LINCS and Adult Numeracy Instruction (ANI). Pam enjoys sharing techniques for teaching math conceptually, from basic math through algebra, and is co-author of the Hands On Math series for Walch Publishing in Portland, Maine.