Assistant Professor of Mathematics Felipe Ramírez had an interest in solving puzzles and riddles from a young age. Ramírez enjoyed STEM subjects the most in school, and decided to pursue his interest by majoring in Electrical Engineering at Colorado State University. While at college, however, he decided that electrical engineering was not really what he wanted to do.
“After one semester, I decided to switch to physics [after] realizing that it was the theory that I enjoyed more so than the assembly of actual circuits,” Ramírez said. “And one semester after that, I added math.”
Ramírez found that the things he loved about puzzles and problem solving were incorporated into mathematics. Ramírez decided to pursue a PhD in Mathematics at the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor, after which he held postdoc positions at the University of Bristol and the University of York before accepting a position at Wesleyan.
Ramírez was interested in teaching as a profession early on in his academic career. He was inspired by his father, who was a professor of civil engineering, and also saw academia as a natural path forward in mathematics.
“If I had continued in engineering, I would’ve wanted to become an “‘engineer,'” he said. “Now that I was majoring in math, I felt that the only way the option of “mathematician” would open up to me was if I went to graduate school. And, in my limited knowledge, I considered “mathematician” to be synonymous with “mathematics professor.” So “professor” became a sort of default aspiration.”
Ramírez emphasized that while teaching was ultimately the best fit for him, a degree in mathematics can be applicable to many different career paths.
“Studying mathematics does not commit you to academia,” he said. “Far from it. There are myriad ways to make meaningful and consistent use of mathematics in your life, and countless professions you can pursue with a mathematical background. To anyone who reads this: If you’re interested in studying mathematics or learning more about the major, do get in touch!”
Ramírez also stressed the importance that role models have played in his academic career, both in choosing an occupation and getting the support needed to overcome the challenges that came with it.
“I was extremely lucky to have had my father’s example to pull me through obstacles, and to have had several wonderful professors to teach me and encourage me in my career,” he said. “It’s important to have people to tell you “you belong here,” especially in moments when it’s not easy to say it to yourself. I hope it’s a message that I manage to get across to my students.”
When asked about the consequences of a lack of diversity in STEM, Ramírez pointed that diversity should be desirable as an end in itself.
“We don’t have to accurately predict consequences to know that diversity is valuable,” he said. “We’re human. Our diversity enriches us. Not to mention, the lack of diversity in STEM points to issues of opportunity, access, and fairness. It’s not just the consequences that are of concern, but also the causes.”