Reexamining What it Means to Be a Mathematician

Reexamining What it Means to Be a Mathematician

  • October 6, 2023

Growing up on a rancho just outside of Bakersfield’s city limits, Hilda Wright was brought up learning how to calculate real-world math problems at a very early age. Now, as a Math Coordinator for KCSOS with over 28 years of education experience, she credits her passion and career to one person: her father.

Despite only completing the 6th grade, Wright’s father, Carlos Villarreal, deeply appreciated numbers. His work on the farm would always lend itself to teachable moments for Wright and her three siblings. From determining how far apart to plant the farm’s orange and lemon trees to the process of applying quick problem-solving skills, Wright learned to redefine what being good at math means.

“Some people have this preconceived image of what a mathematician looks like, but I firmly believe that anyone can be a mathematician, including my dad,” said Wright. “He would always have his notepad and pencils on him to draw out his calculations for planting or planning harvests. It inspired my siblings and me to pursue it in our careers.”

Villarreal’s affinity for math is what influenced Wright and her two sisters to pursue education. Even Wright’s brother, despite not having a college degree, uses math in his current role every day. All of Villarreal’s children are grateful for the life lessons he provided.

“People will often declare that they are not ‘math people,’ and it’s always culturally accepted,” said Wright. “Yet, no one ever brags about not being able to read. My mission is to change that narrative.”

We all use math every day. Wright says she always gives the example of people waking up and snoozing their alarm because they can quickly calculate their time before starting their day. That is math and shows we can all be mathematicians, she said.

As Wright reflects on her career, she uses her dad to inspire all students to realize that math can be fun and used in almost every facet of their lives. That’s why, during the California Mathematics Council Central Conference last year, Wright, as president of the organization, decided to honor her father.

“My message was clear that day: We must re-imagine who can be termed a mathematician. They don’t always fit a particular mold. Anyone, including immigrant fathers, can be our math hero.”