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Francis Su: "Mathematics Is for Human Flourishing"

Francis Su: "Mathematics Is for Human Flourishing"

Francis Su, a University of Texas at Austin alumnus and the outgoing President of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), recently gave his retiring presidential address in which he discussed why and how to bring about a more inclusive mathematical community. He also talked about how math can help us live the good life.


Su received his PhD from Harvard University after graduating from the University of Texas with a degree in Mathematics, and has been a professor of mathematics at Harvey Mudd College for over 20 years. He is also a widely respected researcher and educator in mathematics, having mentored over 60 mathematics research students. He has won several national awards for his teaching.

The presidential address, titled "Mathematics for Human Flourishing," opened with Su talking about his personal experience in recognizing that the standard vision of "who can do mathematics" is limiting, and then discussing the fundamental importance of mathematics to education and to life more generally.

"When I think of human flourishing, I'm thinking of something close to Aristotle's definition, which is activity in accordance with virtue. For instance, each of the basic desires that I mentioned in my talk is a mark of flourishing. If you have a playful mind or a playful spirit, or you're seeking truth, or pursuing beauty, or fighting for justice, or loving another human being — these are activities that line up with certain virtues."

From there Su took an inward look at the mathematical community, noting that math classes are notoriously the stumbling block for prospective STEM students, and saying:

"If you believe that mathematics is for human flourishing, and we teach mathematics to help them flourish, you will see, if you look around the room, that we aren't helping all our students flourish.The demographics of the mathematical community does not look like the demographics of America.We have left whole segments out of the benefits of the flourishing available in our profession."

Quanta magazine recounted that his address was so moving that "when Su finished his talk, the audience rose to its feet and applauded, and many of his fellow mathematicians came up to him afterward to say he had made them cry."

To read the entirety of Francis Su's retiring presidential address, as well as his interview in Quanta magazine click below:

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Saturday, 21 October 2017

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