Berkeley News: What year are you, and where are you from?
Robert Peña: I'm a first-year student from SoCal — Orange County.
What are you interested in studying right now?
My intended major is applied mathematics.
When did you first know that you liked math?
It was in elementary school. My sister, she's three years older than me, and she would have trouble with her math homework, and my mom would come over to me and ask if I could help her. And I was like, “Yeah, for sure.” And so I would do my sister's math homework for her.
It has always kind of come naturally to me. I find it really fun, and I know people are like, “Oh, my gosh, that's crazy of you.” But yeah, the concepts are interesting to me, and it just comes naturally to me, and it’s something I enjoy doing.
What do you like about math? What is appealing about it to you?
Just that even though it’s so routine, there's also flexibility. In calculus, there are many ways to get to a certain answer. I like that there are different routes you can take. If you want to be difficult, you can take the difficult route, but there’s always an easier way, too.
That’s interesting. I think when some people think about math, it seems very straightforward, like, there’s one answer and one way to get there.
Yeah. I always try to solve problems in different ways. I tutored students in middle school, and in high school I would help my friends with math. When I’m helping people with math and they make mistakes, I try to see what went wrong and then show them another way they can do it next time to make it easier for them.
When you think about applying math to your life in the future, what do you envision?
Hopefully with my career, I can do math. But like I said before, seeing different routes to get to the same place, I think you can apply that to real world problems.
Has there been something in your life where you kind of had different ways of accomplishing it and or getting somewhere, and you used your math mind to figure it out?
Yeah, I think one situation was coming out to my parents, which was hard for me. Obviously, it's going to be hard for everyone most of the time. But for me, since I come from a traditional Hispanic household, where that's not really the norm, it was difficult for me to muster up the courage to tell them.
I wasn't straightforward about it. I applied my little math skills, and I kind of dropped little hints to them, and they eventually figured it out. And they asked me, and I was like, “Yeah.” So I kind of gave it to them in increments instead of just, you know, straight up telling them.
Do you think that it made it easier?
Yeah. That it made it a lot easier for me. Instead of taking on that burden all at once, I kind of released it in small portions. Which is why I love math.