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! 

Geoffrey Baring, Class of 2022

How did you decide to become a math major?

I always knew I wanted to do math once I got to college; what solidified this for me was meeting with mathematics professors from different universities and really talking with them about mathematics. They were so enthusiastic about what they were studying that I felt I could learn it as well.

Favorite math course(s) and why?

I really enjoyed Galois Theory (MATH 25900) last quarter. I think what was particularly exciting about the subject was how it combined notions we had learned in the previous two quarters of Algebra to study polynomials more deeply than we had before. It really felt like a culmination of previous quarters which I left feeling like I had learned a lot.

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

Nothing particular comes to mind. Overall, I would say the striking thing is how much you learn without realizing it. There are conversations I've had and lectures I've been to which I was able to follow, but which I looked back on amazed that I understood as much as I did. Your progress is gradual enough that you don't realize it if you're too caught up in the moment—stuck on a particular problem or concept you don't understand. When you look back, you then realize you've come a long way.

What are your aspirations? 

I'm hoping to go into graduate studies in mathematics or physics. There's so much in mathematics that I have yet to learn, and I want to make the most of my opportunities to do so.

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

I don't know—there are too many possibilities for me to choose from!

Alex Sheng, Class of 2024

How did you decide to become a math major?

The only subject that I am both good at and share a passion for. Easy choice.

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

I think math has more uses to make our life better than many people would think. Currently I am modeling a tourism chain in China to suggest better, more environmental-friendly, and more beneficial tourism commerce. This kind of hands-on experience that transforms math into useful tools socially excites me.

What are your aspirations? 

Probably pure math. But I do not hesitate to apply math to the real world. The reason for pure math is that I think pure math tends to be a lot neater and more elegant than applied ones. It has beautiful beautiful theorems, constructions, and abstractions. But a lot of applied things that I have tried involve dry computations, evaluations of integrals, and long messy equations. My taste is to stop after giving the equation. I don't really care about the ways to solve that equation as long as, for example, that I have showed that it is solvable.

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

Math PhD would be ideal. Alternatively if I receive great offer from finance companies I will also consider to do a PhD later in my life.

Ruochan Xu, Class of 2023

How did you decide to become a math major?

My participation in Ross in high school was one "historical" factor. More concretely, I think of mathematics as the supreme unity of sciences and humanities -- it is scientific for its rigor, and humanistic for the creativity it inspires. I had a preference for clarity, and math is almost the only subject that, albeit hard, one is able to understand concepts "clearly and distinctly," in Descartes's words. Mathematics is the language of nature; it's simply indisputable that no other discipline achieve such high degree of diversity and unity at the same time.

What are your aspirations? 

I'm going after a math PhD, but let's see what happens after that.

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