Mathematics is the queen of the sciences, and the queen rules, says Jorge Reyes.
“Math is behind the scenes of everything,” the Ph.D. in mathematical sciences, who graduated in May. “Health insurance is dictated by actuaries who do math. Artificial intelligence, if you go back far enough, is all math. Engineering is built on math. Math is actually the science that everyone uses the most. How much should I tip? If I go to sleep now, how much sleep will I get? If I leave now, will I be late? It’s everywhere.”
Reyes shared the importance of math – and the importance of diversifying the field – at the Graduate College’s eighth annual Inspiration, Innovation, Impact event held April 14. The theme of this year’s event, which featured a panel discussion with faculty and graduate students, as well as TED-style talks by graduate students, was “Power In Diversity: Unlocking Creativity and Research Together.”
“In math and STEM, there’s a lack of diversity; but if everyone is the same, then everyone thinks the same and everyone gets stuck on the same problems,” he said.
And for a field that’s so fundamental in our society, that’s problematic.
In his Inspiration, Innovation, Impact presentation, Reyes pointed to mathematician Katherine Johnson who fought racism and segregation inside NASA to calculate the trajectory of the Apollo 11 rocket so that it could get to the moon safely. Reyes also highlighted Srinivasa Ramanujan, a revolutionary Indian mathematician who changed the way the world thought about math.
“They’re both really important and famous, and I say it’s because they were different and could solve the problems no one else could,” Reyes said. “You want different people’s viewpoints on everything.”
Reyes himself isn’t a traditional math student or mathematician. He’s Hispanic, a first-generation college student, and a parent.
“I want to inspire other Hispanic people to say, ‘I can do math.’ They’re often in the really applied fields, like engineering. They’re not a pure scientist like me. I went to Clark High School; and in my AP math classes, there were only three or four Hispanic students, and the school is 70% Hispanic,” Reyes said. “If there are people who want to follow a similar path, I want to show that they can do it. I want to help them. That’s why I want to be a professor, a mentor.”
Reyes, who holds an Associate of General Studies degree from CSN, as well as a B.S. in mathematics and an M.S. in mathematical sciences from UNLV, has accepted a three-year postdoctoral scholar position at Virginia Tech starting in the fall. He will continue his research focused on the theoretical and computational studies of fluid flow models based on Navier-Stokes equations, albeit using different techniques in the future.
His educational journey wasn’t always smooth sailing, though.
“I was always terrible at English, but I was good at math. I had always been in remedial reading and writing classes. When I moved from California to Nevada, they put me in an honors math class. That was the first time I was ever good at something. It just clicked,” Reyes said. “I like the security of math. It’s never wrong.”
Reyes hopes to keep spreading the message.
“There seems to be this communication barrier where people in STEM, in general, aren’t great at translating what they do to laypeople. I want to carry that torch a bit and show people what math is and why it’s so useful, especially in their everyday lives,” Reyes said.