What It Means to Meet a Mathematician

May 21, 2024
Photo above: Selvi Kara. Credit: Aaron Windhorst

The importance of representation in a field of study cannot be overstated.

"This is the most meaningful project I’ve ever been involved in," says Dr. Selvi Kara, one of the co-founders of Meet a Mathematician, a growing collection of short video interviews with mathematicians. "Being a part of this project and meeting the amazing mathematicians we interviewed has changed the way I think about the mathematics community."

Meet a Mathematician's goal is to introduce students to role models and encourage their participation in the mathematical sciences. The project also strives to foster a sense of community. By hearing personal stories of mathematicians through short videos, Kara hopes the students, especially from underrepresented groups in STEM and particularly in math, feel a sense of belonging and recognize that there is a place for them in mathematics.

"This project made me feel connected to a community I didn’t know existed before," Kara says. "For people who are watching our interviews, it helps them in ways that are beyond what we could have imagined when we started Meet a Mathematician." Kara launched Meet a Mathematician in March 2020 with Dr. Padi Fuster, an NSF ASCEND Postdoctoral Fellow at the CU Boulder, Mathematics Department and one of her close friends.

Kara is the recipient of the 2023 Distinguished Service Award from the College of Science where, at the time, she was a Science Research Initiative (SRI) postdoctoral fellow at the U. Prior to that, she was a research associate in the Department of Mathematics. Kara received her undergraduate degree in mathematics from Istanbul University, and after graduation, she attended Nesin Mathematics Village every summer until she moved to the U.S. for her PhD at Tulane University.

Kara with her SRI Chip-Firing Stream Students

Nesin Mathematics Village played a crucial role in Kara's growth as a mathematician. "That’s where I learned about various fields of mathematics not covered in my undergraduate math curriculum," says Kara. "It was at the Math Village where I first learned about combinatorial commutative algebra, the field of my research, and I realized that it was the kind of math I imagined myself doing in the future."

“Combinatorial commutative algebra is a field that lies at the intersection of combinatorics and commutative algebra,” Kara says. “I really enjoy working in this field as it allows me to use tools from both disciplines to answer algebraic questions.”

Kara is interested in translating complex algebraic ideas and notions into ones that are more accessible, as well as finding ways to express such concepts using figures. Recently, Kara’s research has expanded towards a new field called algebraic combinatorics, and she works on problems related to chip-firing games and parking functions in this field.

As part of her role as an SRI fellow, Kara led the higher-dimensional chip-firing SRI stream during the Spring-Fall 2023 semesters and mentored eight undergraduates. The students involved in Kara’s SRI stream presented their research at the 2024 Joint Mathematics Meeting in San Francisco in January. Kara continues her research with undergraduate and graduate students at Bryn Mawr College, and she still mentors her students from the U even though she is no longer there.

As a first-generation individual, Kara deeply understands the importance of having role models and mentors, and she will continue her work in Meet a Mathematician. This project is a way for Kara to give back to her community and contribute to a positive change in the culture of mathematics.


by CJ Siebeneck

You can read recent research by Selvi Kara here and here. Also, "A Conversation on Meet a Mathematician and Math For All," with Padi Fuster in Practices and Policies: Advocating For Students of Color in Mathematics,