When I was applying to the magnet program of my public high school, I had to write an essay on “My Hero.” I’ve never been much of a hero-worshiper, so I wrote about myself (yes, I have always been this awesome and modest). In retrospect maybe this means I didn’t have too many role models as one of two Vietnamese kids in my school, and a math nerd to boot, but of course at the time I took it as a source of pride that I only looked up to myself (and secretly my parents, but the 13-year-old who writes an essay about looking up to their parents is a far more mature one than I was). I have always found it difficult to admire/like people that I don’t know in person, because you never know if you’ll get the feeling that someone likes to kick puppies in their spare time until you have a face-to-face conversation with them. So Melinda Gates, for instance, will not be appearing in this blog post.
I admire all of these people, and I want you to know about them too because they are all going places or are already places. This is a very incomplete list in no particular order, and also I count all of these people as personal friends. This post was inspired by Mathematically Gifted and Black.
Moon Duchin– Moon has been all over the news lately because of this awesome gerrymandering workshop she’s co-organizing this summer at Tufts, to prepare mathematicians to be expert witnesses in legal cases (they’re working with lawyers). Here’s the interview and article from Chronicles of Higher Ed [Note: yes, it’s standard in Chronicles of Higher Ed to refer to profs by Ms./Mr./Mrs. and yes, many of us skimmed several random articles to check that]. It’s so big, there’s a meta-article about it on Snopes with “geometric group theory” in the title! So Moon Duchin is a name you should know. She’s also extremely dedicated to mentorship-she was part of the team that started the Directed Reading Program at UChicago, which now exists in at least a dozen schools, she’s extremely approachable to Tufts students, and she goes above and beyond with research clusters, minicourses + conversations, and still manages to do lots of cool research. I’m a big fan. Fun fact: when I cut my hair short I didn’t know how to style it, so I texted Moon for help (she was helpful).
Piper Harron– Piper blew up the math world two years ago with her thesis, a testament to her journey through mathademia and astute observations of her own experiences. We first started talking when I posted an emo post about that thesis, and I’ve been reading her powerful words since then, especially through the election. Here’s her blog. Piper’s honesty, directness, and way of wielding words like a sword to cut straight to your heart and the heart of the matter at hand all make for a nigh-poetic reading experience, but the matter at hand (often math culture, American culture, oppression) is so heavy and concrete that we are brought to earth, crashing hard. See, I do not wield words like a sword, and Piper would’ve written that sentence way better than me. Fun story: at IAS last year Moon and I ran a discussion on intersecting identities and I TOTALLY crashed and burned trying to explain intersectionality with a raft metaphor (I am not going to try to explain it here), and Piper rescued me.
Here’s a video (and transcript if you don’t like watching videos) with pizza as a metaphor for intersectional feminism:
My Khanh Ngo: MK is a classmate of mine from Yale, and while I’ve been spending the seven years since we graduated on this Ph.D. and making babies, she’s been tirelessly fighting for social justice through immigration law and reform. She also introduced me to takoyaki so she obviously makes this list. My Khanh has also been in the news lately as one of the writers of the ACLU Darweesh vs. Trump case, and she just published a piece on Feministing about another project she’s involved with, the Immigrant Bail Fund. Just in case you aren’t sure about where to donate to benefit your LOCAL COMMUNITY (or national), she’s sent out a link to a google doc with a great list. Here’s a preview of her TV debut on Frontline:
Ivuoma (Ivy) Onyeador: Ivy was the year below me at Yale and a Bouchet Fellow, which like the Mellon fellowship supports undergrads who want to join academia. They definitely got their money’s worth with Ivy- she’s heading back to Yale as a postdoc in the fall after defending her social psychology thesis this spring! Ivy is also a social media maven (the link for her name above is to her Facebook profile) AND she co-hosts one of my favorite podcasts, The Get. One thing I love about this podcast is that Ivy and Rhiana are often calling each other in and accepting that getting to equality/social justice is a journey. For instance, they apologize on the podcast about inadvertently being trans-exclusive or heteronormative. They’re still miles ahead of me on the journey to wokeness (maybe I’m behind on the terms now, based on this article from LAST YEAR in the NYT by Amanda Hess who can join my Melinda Gates list).
Ellen Junn: Ellen is the president of California State University, Stanislaus (aka Stanislaus State), which is AWESOME and well-deserved. We first met in 2006 when she was my alum interviewer for Princeton. During the interview she told me that she always takes the students who get in out for lunch to talk about Princeton and their plans for undergrad. I did not go to Princeton, but I emailed her anyway and she took me to lunch anyway, and has been doing so for over ten years. She also went to University of Michigan for undergrad, which is where my best friend Denise Ding went, so she’s also mentored Denise through our journeys. Back then she was a professor in psychology at Cal State Fullerton, then she moved to Fresno as associate provost, then to San Jose, Dominguez Hills, and finally Stanislaus as she climbed the ladder. Throughout all of it, she’s shown dedication to mentorship, community, and students, and I can personally attest to that- she even called me in 2012 when I was freaking out about grad school to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of academia.
Brittani Nichols: B is another social-media maven (here’s her twitter, instagram, youtube of her webseries, and two podcasts and also her imdb page). We met senior year of college and became friends pretty quickly. I’m very enthusiastic about all the people featured in this list but I can unambigiously say that B is the coolest person I know (though my cousin, a producer of Dear White People, comes close). I’ve watched B over the past seven years endlessly working to make it in an industry that doesn’t exactly love black lesbians. I admire her gung-ho-ness, sharp and quick-witted sense of humor (she is a writer first, as seen by her articles on Autostraddle), and extremely strong sense of self which we all felt in college and still feel now. She’s definitely an up and comer- I didn’t even know until going to her IMDB page that she was on Transparent! And her film Suicide Kale has won a bevy of awards. Once she turned down a Thanksgiving invitation from me to go to a famous person’s house, and she told me that it was for her career and she would’ve rather had my Vietnamese-American turducken instead.
Evelyn Lamb: Last but certainly not least is my fairy blogmother and friend who is a freelance mathematical journalist. She’s published on so many websites at this point it’s hard to keep track, but each month you can get an update from her (I do!) via email list. I think we met via twitter, where she’s often promoting young mathematicians like me, and keeping us all up to date on math news. Then we met in person at a math conference, and a few times since then. I’m a big fan. You should read Evelyn’s work if you haven’t already. I’m tired now so she gets the worst blurb of all, but I’ve written about her before so hopefully that makes up for it.
Phew! Eight months pregnant with a horrible cold and I still very slowly wrote a blog post! Huzzah! Back to bed (I am surrounded by tissues and pedialyte right now) for me. Hope you enjoyed this list!