THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – While training on the field for the upcoming men’s soccer season, Luis Perez also spent his summer preparing for the upcoming year in a much different way.
A double major in mathematics and computer science, the junior had the opportunity to conduct summer research through two different programs, all to prepare for his future as a math professor- a dream he’s been chasing since childhood.
English came second to Spanish for Perez, often presenting a barrier between him and his classmates at a young age. Math served as the common denominator to break down those walls.
“Starting off in elementary school, I saw myself as an outcast because of this language barrier and so math became that second language that let me have a relationship between my classmates,” Perez said. “I became good at it and it let me compete academically with my classmates.”
Now, as Perez begins to finish up his undergrad, he is focused on getting into grad school and pursuing a PhD program with hopes to give back and help other students succeed in math. This summer, he showed the importance of putting the student before the athlete as he spent his time doing research through two different programs- one at CLU and one at Arizona State University.
During his time researching at Cal Lutheran over the summer, Perez teamed up with CLU mathematics professor, Dr. John Villalpando, with an idea to study the idea of error correcting codes.
To an everyday person, error correcting codes are used in the transmission of a piece of data between two people (for example: a text message) and ensure that the piece of data gets there without a hitch. Perez’s study focused on looking at error codes mathematically to see if there was a possibility of taking that idea from coding theory to make it more universal.
“I looked at these properties of a specific error code called a Hamming code through mathematics and then I looked at applications that go beyond traditional uses like sending data or data transmission to really showcase this idea of effective communication between two parties,” Perez said. “These applications that I look at include a Hat Game called the Hat problem and a magic trick called the Parody Card trick.”
Following his research through Cal Lutheran, Perez then traveled to Arizona State University for the ASU MTBI REU research program.
“I spent eight weeks there,” said Perez. “Four weeks just looking at interesting math topics and the last four weeks was doing research with a group so we did research on modeling the spatial dynamics or relationships between the immune system and tumorous cancer growth the epithelial tissue of the alveoli in the lungs- and that was very interesting.”
After completing both summer research projects, Perez’s studies then continued on into the fall, giving him the opportunity to present his research at three separate events.
While Perez was excited to have the opportunity to present his work, he knew that attending the conferences would mean missing some end of the season soccer games with the Kingsmen, but head coach Miguel Ruiz encouraged him to continue pursue his success in academics.
“When he came in and told me what he was doing, there was no hesitation about letting him accomplish what he is doing,” Ruiz said, “Once he explained everything that he was going through I was like ‘no you need to do that for sure, your academics need to come first.’ It was pretty exciting to know he was doing that and getting that much recognition.”
After getting the green light from his coaches, Perez was able to miss the last few games of the season to present his work through MacNair (Great Minds in Stem program) at conferences in Pasadena and in Arlington, Virginia, as well as the Cal Lutheran Undergraduate Research Symposium.
The second conference Perez attended in Virginia, though, proved to be the most valuable, as it connected him back to why he he wanted to pursue a career in mathematics in the first place.
“I went to another conference in Virginia through the MacNair program called the Institute of Teaching and Mentoring,” Perez said. “It’s the biggest gathering of underrepresented PhD scholars and just going there was really eye opening in terms of there are people like me who are underrepresented, first generation, low income, and they’re pursuing a PhD, and though it might seem like there might not be many, when you go to this conference it’s like they all come together.”
“I submitted an abstract to present in the research poster competition and I got a spot and I won there too. The guy who got first was actually from Harvard so when I noticed that I was like ‘you know what second place is good with me’,” laughed Perez.
Perez stands out as an example of how the student comes before the athlete, and he showcases it in the sacrifices he made for his academic success. He embodies the definition of a student-athlete.
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Feature by Alexa Barnes, Sports Information Student Assistant