The earliest memories of Hunter Andres Vallejos were his love for mathematics. He remembers becoming aware of negative numbers back in kindergarten. What was a kindergartner to make of a number less than zero?
Hunter’s parents were not mathematicians: his mother is a businesswoman and his father is an optometrist. But his love for mathematics was further cultivated by growing up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In a city rich in the history of the Manhattan Project, Hunter attended a school system that was exceptionally strong in the sciences and mathematics. He took many advanced placement classes while at Oak Ridge High School.
It was during high school that Hunter first experienced pure mathematics, which involved building a program to generate the Mandelbrot set in Java. “If you have never seen it, just look it up,” Hunter says. “It is remarkable how such beauty can come from complex numbers.”
For Hunter, The strongest draw to Georgia Tech was the student body. “There was a real passion for learning and growth which I found lacking at other universities,” Hunter says. “I honestly felt that the student body was genuinely interested in what they were learning – so much so that they would even spend spare time on projects for fun!
“Being able to make a joke about calculus and everyone on campus understand it is a very special thing – I will miss it.”
What is the most important thing you learned at Georgia Tech?
I learned responsibility. I learned to balance a budget; file my taxes; balance my schoolwork, hobbies, and personal time; and build professional connections that will lead to future opportunities.
What are your proudest achievements at Georgia Tech?
I achieved many scholarly goals, such as being first author on a scientific publication, doing many research internships, getting all A’s while taking four graduate math courses at a time, etc.
But my proudest achievement was the opportunity to affect students as a teaching assistant in the School of Mathematics. Reading the anonymous reviews by students every semester always warms my heart.
My favorite part of teaching was when a student began to see the beauty and scope of mathematics in its entirety – the mysterious deep connections between algebra, geometry, and topology; the problems that arise when one wants to talk about infinity; and the insight that comes from generality.
Which professor(s) or class(es) made a big impact on you?
Professor John Etnyre and Dr. Caitlin Leverson had an enormous impact on me. The many topology and geometry classes I took from Professor Etnyre and Dr. Leverson’s mentorship in my research activities at Georgia Tech have shaped me as a mathematician, thinker, and person. I am very thankful for their mentorship and good example.
What is your most vivid memory of Georgia Tech?
My most vivid memories come from the inordinate amount of time I spent ballroom dancing. I competed in places like Baltimore, Maryland; Columbus, Ohio; and Raleigh, North Carolina. The team is full of my closest friends. We had so much fun between dancing, board game nights, and our studies!
How did Georgia Tech transform your life?
Georgia Tech has made me an independent and capable thinker. The rigor of Georgia Tech’s academics creates some of the most sought-out talent by graduate and professional schools, as well as employers. I never felt held back at this university. It has enabled me to pursue my aspirations to their full potential.
What unique learning activities did you undertake?
I interned at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory for two summers. In one internship, I developed a method of validating the forecast accuracy of feed-forward artificial neural networks. In the other, I published a scientific paper in a peer-reviewed journal on an agent-based model of wealth inequality.
As part of the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program of the School of Mathematics, I did research in Legendrian knot theory. Moreover, I received the President’s Undergraduate Research Award (PURA) to continue this research throughout my senior year.
The problems I worked on and the mentors I worked with have intimately shaped me as a thinker.
What advice would you give to incoming undergraduate students at Georgia Tech?
Find and build a support group of friends, whether that be in clubs or intramurals. They will be there for you in times of need, and you need to be reminded that there are more important things in life than your career and grades.
Learn the importance of good diet and sleeping habits to learning and why you shouldn’t stay up all night studying for an exam only to fall asleep while taking it.
Do not cram! Even if you can pass the test after cramming, you will remember none of the material, and this will hamper your success in future classes that depend on what you learn now. Learn how to study every week by completing exercises or by going over lecture notes.
When I did this, I found that all I needed was a few hour refresher before taking my final exams – which is nice when you see everyone else spending unhealthy amounts of time cramming for final exams.
Where are you headed after graduation?
I am continuing my studies in the Math Ph. D. program at the University of Texas, Austin. Georgia Tech has developed in me the mathematical maturity necessary to thrive in a school like UT Austin. I don’t think that such a great Ph. D. program would have been within my reach had I studied elsewhere.