Teacher’s ultimate goal to come back to Hawai‘i

Effren Ruiz’s original thought was to become a math teacher at the high school level.

Raised in Puhi, and after graduating from Kaua‘i High School in 1994, Ruiz packed his bags and set off to the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa to get his bachelor’s degree.

His education didn’t stop there.

He decided to then go to the University of Oregon for his master’s degree.

“I really thought I was just going to be a high-school teacher, and hopefully make it back to Kaua‘i, but that sort of didn’t happen,” Ruiz, 29, said. “I still love teaching, but the research aspect was intriguing.” Ruiz ended up staying at the University of Oregon, and graduated with his doctorate in math last year.

“It’s all math,” he said.

Ruiz pointed out that the subject is a lot more than just solving math problems.

There are two main types: applied mathematics, like counting money and paying bills; and pure mathematics, involving research and complex math problems.

“These take more than just days to figure out. My thesis took me two years to finish,” he said.

“The idea is, in order to get your doctorate, you have to have a problem that no one’s solved, and hopefully finish it in a year or however long it takes. Mine took two years.” Ruiz currently holds a post-doctorate position at the University of Toronto, in Canada. It’s a part-time position in which Ruiz teaches one class and continues to research math problems.

“The research helps me for when I get a permanent professor position at a research university. My ultimate goal is to get back to the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.” Ruiz also hopes to have work published in several popular mathematics journals.

He is working on a complex math problem that, in order to figure out, he has collaborated with a mathematician in Denmark.

The two both have been working on different parts of the problem, and communicate solely through e-mails.

“That’s the problem with modern-day mathematics now. It’s all specialized. When we break down problems, it goes down to special areas (of expertise),” Ruiz said.

His area is operative theory, which he said was too complicated to summarize.

“If you didn’t love math and solving problems and dedicating so much time into complicated problems, then I don’t think anyone would go this far into research,” he said.

Ruiz compared the type of research he does to the story portrayed in the film “A Beautiful Mind.” “It’s like that. You could solve a problem and then have it sit for years until someone discovers how to use it,” he said. “His work, they later used for economics.” But Ruiz refuses to have the world of math consume his life. He said many mathematicians tend to do so, and sometimes obsess with math, associating it in everything they do.

“In some sense, we like to logically break things down, but I try not to do that. I try not to have it consume my entire life,” he said. “I like to hike and play tennis.” Ruiz was on Kaua‘i for the holidays while students and faculty at the University of Toronto were on break. While here, he left his work in Canada, and let himself relax. He and friends hiked up the ‘Awa‘awapuhi Trail in Koke‘e State Park.

Although Ruiz said he does possess the slight obsession to figuring problems out, he knows when to leave the math problems behind.

“I’m definitely not that type that some other mathematicians are,” Ruiz said.

Lanaly Cabalo, lifestyle writer, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 237) or lcabalo@kauaipubco.com.


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