Carnegie Mellon University
March 16, 2023

Mathematician Theresa Anderson Adds New Perspectives To Field

By Amy Pavlak Laird

Jocelyn Duffy
  • Associate Dean for Marketing and Communication, MCS
  • 412-268-9982

Theresa Anderson never set out to be a mathematician. She was creative — she liked the arts and languages — and math just seemed too rigid. But then she took her first college-level math course. It was a proof-based course, and she got a taste of how much creativity was involved in coming up with mathematical discoveries.

"It was just so liberating, seeing the creative aspect of math and seeing that yes, the way I think has a place here," said Anderson, an assistant professor of mathematical sciences.

Sixteen years after that inspiring math class, Anderson still gravitates toward math problems that are not so rigid, ones that she can approach from a variety of perspectives. Her area of expertise is in harmonic analysis and number theory, two fields that may seem like a non-traditional pairing, but make perfect sense to Anderson.

"I tend to connect areas of mathematics and not constrain myself. I pull techniques from a variety of fields and go out of my comfort zone to explore new things," said Anderson, who earned a master's degree and Ph.D. in mathematics from Brown University and completed an NSF Mathematical Sciences Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Along the way she's discovered that her unconventional way of approaching mathematical problems is inspiring to students, including the fact that she herself — a woman doing math — is still somewhat unconventional. In Anderson's experience, just being that face on the web page is huge.

"People see that, and it's very powerful. Oh look, it's a woman. Students will just come and talk to me, and those talks oftentimes lead to mentoring relationships," Anderson said.

Anderson plans to continue fostering those types of relationships in her role at Carnegie Mellon, especially when it comes to supporting minority students interested in math. Anderson's family is not white, and her experiences as a white member of a minority community have shifted her perspective.

"I think for people who don't have that perspective, they just have no idea. That's one of the things I want to try to help with — getting the next generation more involved and more aware of how small things can actually have big impacts on minority communities," she said. "That's what I have in mind throughout my teaching, whether it be a math course or a social justice course: to open a student's mind to not just fill it with information but also to open it to different perspectives."