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Department of Mathematics Ph.D. student Ariel Glassberg visited the campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2020 just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. He credits the visit with solidifying his decision to pursue graduate education at Carolina—and, as a Hispanic student, he hopes to inspire other underrepresented minority students to understand the benefits of a graduate education in mathematics.

Ariel Glassberg, wearing a plaid shirt and standing in front of greenery
Ariel Glassberg, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Mathematics.

“It’s somewhat hard to break through and have students of color study math,” Glassberg said. “It’s more seen as an academic subject, but it applies in everyday life, like in tech and finance, and plenty of researchers use mathematics.”

He completed his bachelor’s degree at Lehigh University before studying for his master’s degree at Hunter College. From New York, Glassberg identifies as a quarter Jewish, and the rest of his family is Latino.

“It’s not very visible, but it’s part of my identity,” he said. “For me it becomes a question of culturally, do I think I would fit in in certain places? Do I have those concerns? And I certainly did have those concerns before coming to Carolina.”

Glassberg is in his second year of courses and is undecided about his area of study. Regardless, he hopes to pursue a position in research, perhaps in industry.

At Carolina, Glassberg has been involved with The Graduate School’s Diversity and Student Success program, specifically, its Initiative for Minority Excellence and affinity group La Familia. As a first-year graduate student during the pandemic, he found Zoom socials and networking to be beneficial.

“Part of the reason I wanted to do that was to connect with more people in the area,” Glassberg said. “It was a good way to connect with many people on a broad scale.” … “It has been great to get to know other people in the UNC-Chapel Hill community, especially with those who more closely share my identity.”

As a graduate student, Glassberg takes on roles both as a graduate instructor and as a researcher. He hopes to encourage undergraduate students who are underrepresented minorities to study mathematics at Carolina in order to continue to diversify his department and enhance research.

“When I came here, I saw few Black and Brown faces,” Glassberg said. “Being a good researcher can help your community at its most basic level,” he explained. “Research is best done in a community where people come from different backgrounds, different communities, and bring different perspectives.”

As a graduate instructor, Glassberg said teaching the next generation of mathematicians extends beyond the campus at Carolina.

“As an educator, we do math research, and we educate people in mathematics,” Glassberg said. The implications for having a more diverse group of educators are clear; you’re dealing with people of color on a regular basis. They’re from different backgrounds and there’s benefit in the different way they may think.”

His advice to incoming or current graduate students is this: “Find a community or a support system.”

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