Selenne Banuelos

June 29, 2021 — CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) Associate Professor of Mathematics Selenne Bañuelos, Ph.D., will join the Institute for Pure and Applied Math (IPAM) as an associate director “which is a HUGE deal,” said Associate Professor of Mathematics Cynthia Flores, Ph.D., a friend and colleague.

Beginning in August, Bañuelos will spend a two- or three-year sabbatical at the institute, which is one of only seven in the nation funded by the National Science Foundation. Bañuelos will work with math researchers from all over the world at IPAM, which is housed at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA).

“I’m very excited to be integrated into the research world,” Bañuelos said. “As a professor, people think all we do is teach, but a lot of our work is behind the scenes with organizing symposiums and conferences—all of the work that doesn’t fall under the title of ‘professor.’ This gives me a chance to use the skills I’ve accumulated.”

Bañuelos will be assisting the director and deputy director to arrange the institutes research programs, which will take on some of the nation’s leading-edge issues, such as big data, cybersecurity and the development of autonomous vehicles.

Mathematics can help us understand fundamental dynamics of how humans behave in a world becoming increasingly automated, and in a variety of other fields that might be surprising, Bañuelos said.

“For example, some of the researchers are using an area of mathematics called ‘swarming,’ which measures human and animal motion,” she explained. “We can use mathematical equations to help us model human movement, which will help us better understand how these self-automated cars will work alongside us.”

Flores is thrilled for her friend and professional associate, and looks forward to working with her during her tenure at IPAM.

“I can’t imagine going through the tenure process without the support of my peer mentor, Selenne,” Flores said. “I look up to her as a colleague, mother, co-author, co-mentor and friend. Selenne leads with strength and elegance. I was looking forward to sharing lunches now as tenured faculty and after returning from the pandemic year, but she will nevertheless bring her knowledge and leadership to the mathematics community.”

During the 2012-2014 academic year, 1,926 PhDs in Mathematics were awarded in the U.S. with Latinas receiving five of those PhDs — Bañuelos and Flores were two of those five.

They were hired together at CSUCI in Fall of 2014, and have worked together not only in class, but outside of class to increase the number of students of color—especially Latinas—in the field of Mathematics.

“As Latinas with PhDs in Mathematics, we are a unicorn,” Flores said.

Despite an early interest in the sciences, Bañuelos wasn’t sure what would have happened had she not encountered mentors willing to light the path to higher education for her.

“I think it was fourth grade when I read about the Big Bang theory,” she said. “I took every possible science class I could. I didn’t know what college was, but I knew I was going to go to college.”

Without two or three mentors who helped Bañuelos along the way, she says she’s not sure she would have gone on to graduate school.

“I didn’t know what a Ph.D. was. I didn’t know what I had to do to get there. If no one had helped me, I would not be enjoying this very fulfilling professional career,” Bañuelos said.

Just as she was encouraged and mentored, Bañuelos plans to use her position at IPAM to usher other women and students of color to the world of mathematics.

“At IPAM, it is very important to me that we actively seek out the participation of women and minorities in the programs,” Bañuelos said.

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