U of T Mathematics Postdoctoral Fellow Empowers Historically Excluded Groups through Innovative Math Program

February 22, 2024 by Wajiha Rasul

Meet Maye Montoya, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Mathematics at the Faculty of Arts and Science, who is breaking barriers by making math accessible to historically excluded groups through a free online Directed Reading Program (DRP), Pares Ordenados

Pares Ordenados offers a mentorship program for Spanish-speaking students in Latin America, with a vision to extend its impact and support to students in Africa. The program operates on a unique model, pairing undergraduate students (mentees) with early-career mathematicians (mentors) for semester-long reading projects. It is designed using a combination of supervised learning and self-directed study methods. It requires students to engage with mentors weekly, participate in panel discussions on Latin/Hispanic mathematicians, and complete a final project.

Maye's inspiration for Pares Ordenados sprouted during her undergraduate studies in Colombia, where her curiosity for advanced mathematical topics clashed with limited access. Her journey continued at Western University where she discovered DRPs and envisioned an online version of the program. The stars aligned when Maye received a message from Niny Arcila-Maya, William W. Elliott Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Duke University, who shared the same vision and was determined to create it into a reality through Pares Ordenados. Maye jumped on the opportunity to help Niny with the project as a mentor and organizer.   

Niny commends Maye's multifaceted involvement, stating, “Maye has proven to be a pivotal team member, showcasing her significance within the group. When I invited her to serve as a mentor for Pares Ordenados, she promptly expressed her interest in contributing to the organization of the program. In the (2023) spring edition, Maye mentored two students on a cryptography project. Moreover, she played a crucial role in the meticulous selection and pairing of both the first and second cohorts of Pares Ordenados mentees and mentors. Her multifaceted involvement highlights her dedication to the success and growth of Pares Ordenados.” 

Carlos Ospina, a mentor at Pares Ordenados, lauded Maye's invaluable contributions to the program, “Her participation in the organization is remarkable. She is excellent at organizing activities for the community, solving conflicts or issues that may appear, and, most importantly, sharing her mentoring and teaching experience with everybody.” 

Wajiha Rasul of the Department of Mathematics spoke to Maye about her involvement in Pares Ordenados and how it is transforming lives. 

Why did you become part of this program?
It is about equity. We want students in Latin America to have equitable access to advanced math and the many exciting opportunities that come with advanced mathematical knowledge. These students are talented, tenacious, and resilient, all qualities of good mathematicians! It is a huge loss to our community that they are not finding success in the mathematical sciences because of a lack of access and opportunities; we want to work to change this.

What does this program mean to you?
I got into education because I dream of making the world a better place. I am fortunate to live this dream every day in the University of Toronto classrooms by preparing caring leaders for tomorrow. It means the world to me to be able to live this dream outside the classrooms as well through Pares Ordenados and take an active role in catalyzing positive change for our community.

How has this program been instrumental in transforming the lives of students?
An exemplary illustration of its impact is evident in the success story of our initial reading project, “An introduction to neural networks: an example about digit classification” which has since evolved into a full-fledged research endeavor. The former mentee, Nathalia Castiblanco Carretero, completed the program successfully and went on to pursue a master's degree. Remarkably, Nathalia’s mentor, Miguel Duque, is currently serving as an advisor on her thesis committee, showcasing the program's enduring influence on academic and professional trajectories.

Moreover, we also believe in the power of community and are confident that connecting students with a worldwide community of mathematicians will have a long-term positive impact on their success in the field of mathematics.

What advice would you give to students?
I would like to invite students to reflect on the border aspects of being a good mathematician beyond the confines of academia. I encourage them to get involved with their communities, actively support and champion Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives, and, whenever feasible, take a proactive role in leading such efforts. Even in the initial stages of our careers, we possess the capacity to reshape the landscape of our mathematical environments.