Student Spotlight

The Spring 2021 student spotlight participants can be found below. Want to be featured on our Mathematics Undergraduate Spotlight? Please fill out this google form questionnaire! 

Emanuel Green, Class of 2022

How did you decide to become a math major?

I came into UChicago as a physics major and just took MATH 15300 and planned to be done. I had space in my schedule and decided to take MATH 15910 just for fun. I took that class with Marco Mendez-Guaraco and it was his passion and enthusiasm for math that made me really start to become interested. I found the course fascinating and decided to take MATH 20250 the next quarter since Marco was teaching it. Once again, he amazed me with the things he taught us. It is because Marco opened my eyes to the beautiful world of math that I am now a physics and math double major.

Favorite math course(s) and why?

MATH 15910. As previously stated, this was the first class that really made me interested in math. I was so amazed by my introduction to proofs and the power of math. A strong second would be MATH 25500. Ring theory was really fun.

Do you have any special story to tell that reflects your experience as a math major? 

Outside of my experiences with Marco, I would say that being a math major has allowed me to really help other people learn and appreciate math. I have tutored my younger sister in math as well as some friends at other universities. I have had a lot of fun showing how interesting and counter-intuitive math can be.

What are your aspirations? 

My main passion right now is physics, specifically the world of nanoscale and quantum engineering. I hope to learn more about the way materials work and how we can control them at the microscopic level. I think topological materials are especially interesting and highlight a really cool intersection of math and physics.

What are you excited about doing after graduation? (If you know)

I will most likely be attending graduate school for physics. After that I will simply explore the opportunities available to me.

Derek Zhu, Class of 2021

How did you decide to become a math major?

I decided to become a math major early in high school, when I picked up a book about obscure Trigonometric identities and thought it was super cool. Some of the identities were stunningly simple yet seemed impossible, and I would spend hours trying to come up with my own. Math is about discovering new beautiful ideas, like a quantitative form of art, and I soon figured out that other fields in math beyond trig were even more beautiful (and useful).

Favorite math course(s) and why?

I like all of them, but CMSC 27530 (Graph Theory) is by far my most favorite. I signed up for the class because I am fascinated by the simplicity and elegance of these important data structures that shape our world. As someone who knew some graph theory from high school, I'm still learning exponentially more concepts every class and the problems on the psets are super fun to solve. Professor Laszlo Babai is not only a combinatorial genius but also a fantastic teacher, and his style makes a difficult topic such as Graph Theory fun and easy to learn.

Do you have any special story to tell that reflects your experience as a math major? 

I don't have any special stories about classes because they were all online, but the people in the math department are very special. Coming into UChicago as a freshman, I didn't know a lot of things, and when I reached out to upperclassmen they were very willing to help me navigate through math classes and the school itself. They are super nice and a testament to the department's philosophy of a curious and collaborative community.

What are your aspirations? 

I want to work in an applied field that is very quantitative, such as Computational Biology, Quantum Computation, or Algorithmic Game Theory. These fields are CS-heavy by nature, but require a lot of rigorous mathematical thinking and problem solving. Hopefully I can become a Professor or be at the forefront in one of these industries.

What are you excited about doing after graduation? (If you know)

I'm a freshman, so I don't know. I'm excited for what will happen, and perhaps my aspirations will be very different from what they are now.

Zihao Li, Class of 2021

How did you decide to become a math major?

cannot imagine a life without math

Favorite math course(s) and why?

MATH 25700 by Calegari, the only class that keeps me focused

What are your aspirations? 

Probability/Statistics/Optimization/Financial Math

What are you excited about doing after graduation? (If you know)

Princeton ORFE PhD

Joseph Aulicino, Class of 2022

How did you decide to become a math major?

I always enjoyed math when I was a kid. I loved that you rarely needed to memorize anything: usually all the necessary information was in the problem statement. When I got to college, I tried my hand at a few upper level math classes, and found that upper level math was even more creative and interesting than I had imagined. Using mathematical machinery is a surprisingly powerful joy.

Favorite math course(s) and why?

Intro to Proofs. I took this course on a whim, and it was my first experience with the creative side of upper level mathematics. I really enjoyed learning how to prove things, and what Math really is. I think my current courses are more interesting and challenging, but intro to Proofs is what got me started.

Do you have any special story to tell that reflects your experience as a math major?

I took my copy of one my textbooks home and gave it to my dad. It had some easy, beginner-ish proofs in the beginning that I thought he might like to think about. He promptly handed it back to me. It was I pretty lame gift, I must admit, but I thought he would enjoy it if he got over that aversion. I flipped it over and showed him a picture of the textbook's author, one-eyed infamous, Paul Sally, Math Pirate extraordinaire. I told him a bit about Prof. Sally, and his crazy life. He was intrigued and took the book back and started reading. The moral of the story is Math isn't sexy... until it is.

What are your aspirations?

Let's just say, for all the atoms in my body, we could fit a ball at their center and still have the ball be inside my body. Ha. Ha.

What are you excited about doing after graduation?

I am excited to visit and explore new places

Steve Kelly, Class of 2022

How did you decide to become a math major?

I was originally a physics major, but I decided to take the math 160's anyways. I sat down for first lecture of Math 161, and by the first half of the lecture I was like, "I'm a math major now," and that was all there was to it!.

Favorite math course(s) and why?

I really loved Measure Theory and Point-Set Topology. I thought the theorems were fascinating, and I was always surprised at how powerful even the most basic of ideas in these classes were.

What are your aspirations?

I hope to become a professor in math.

Jennifer Sun, Class of 2021

How did you decide to become a math major?

Doing math is like fighting a battle and challenging my limits. I love that. If you've ever watched a YouTube video showing how big the universe is, you would perceive the insignificance of human lives. Our physical forms set many limits that can be hardly surpassed, but one great thing about being humans is that through efforts of generations, we could possibly reach greater and greater intellectual heights. That's something meaningful to me - reading about the history of mathematics reminds me of a collective leap that humans are taking to escape our physical constraints.

Favorite math course(s) and why?

207 was a very unique experience. It was hard and time-consuming - you can google "UChicago 207" to find out. It was nevertheless an eye-opening experience in my journey as a math student. Learning about infinite dimensional space for the first time, it brought me to a world that I knew not of.

Do you have any special story to tell that reflects your experience as a math major?

I came to know this group of friends from my honors analysis class. At first, we were simply pset buddies who spent maybe 5 out of 7 nights a week on A-level of the Reg. We weren't exactly the social type to start with, but we were always in similar math classes, so math brought us together. It is mind-blowing how much similarities we share - not only as math students, but also just as people. My math friends and I shared common interests from Renaissance art, ancient Chinese history, Chopin, to TV shows in the 2000s and Murakami's novel South of the Border, West of the Sun. In the pandemic, my friends and I are located in different places around the world, but we would send pictures of trees, bunnies, lakes, the sky, or the moon to each other during our daily walks around our neighborhoods. We share the similar excitement for these small but absolutely beautiful wonders of nature. It's fascinating to have people who truly understand me. I think math is an interesting subject - it really brings like-minded folks together, or perhaps, it shapes one's thoughts and values

What are your aspirations?

David Hume wrote "I must confess that a man is guilty of unpardonable arrogance who concludes, because an argument has escaped his own investigation, that therefore it does not really exist. I must also confess that, though all the learned, for several ages, should have employed themselves in fruitless search upon any subject, it may still, perhaps, be rash to conclude positively that the subject must, therefore, pass all human comprehension."

What are you excited about doing after graduation?

I will be going to graduate school. I also plan on visiting Florence once the pandemic situation permits