Dr. Hiram Lopez Valdez

Title: Assistant Professor, Cleveland State University

Age: 37

Education: B.S., applied mathematics, Autonomous University of Aguascalientes, Mexico; M.S., mathematics, Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute; and Ph.D., mathematics, Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute

Career mentors: Dr. Rafael H. Villarreal, Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute; Dr. Elisa Gorla, University of Neuchâtel; Dr. Felice Manganiello, Clemson University; and Dr. Gretchen Matthews, Virginia Tech

Words of wisdom/advice for new faculty members: “Try, try, and try, and then you will get it. Do what you love. I know that the money is important, but the money will come eventually when you do what you love."

Dr. Hiram Lopez Valdez has done plenty to boast about in his short career. He has written more than 20 journal articles on algebraic coding and cryptography. He is the primary investigator on a National Science Foundation disciplinary grant of nearly $250,000. And he was featured as the Mathematician for the Day in the 2020 calendar of Lathisms, Latinx and Hispanics in Mathematical Sciences. But when asked what part of his academic journey he is most proud, Lopez Valdez has a surprising answer.

“The people I have met because of the research” is his response. “I have been able to connect with many great people that I had no idea existed.”

Lopez Valdez’s focus on the human element started when he was a visiting scholar in Switzerland during the 2014-15 academic year. Lopez Valdez wanted to apply for a scholarship, but in order to do so, he needed to find a mentor to supervise his research. A colleague of his Ph.D. advisor, whom he had never met, volunteered to take him on.

“I didn’t know that it was possible,” said Lopez Valdez. “I don’t know this person. I didn’t know that someone who knows nothing [of] you [would] want to help.”

Her gesture inspired him.

“[It] showed [me] that every time that you need something, you can ask,” he said. “They will do something [for] you and teach you that you can do the same.”

Lopez Valdez now seeks to do the same for other young mathematicians. This focus has benefitted his department at Cleveland State University (CSU), where he is an assistant professor. Although CSU does not have a Ph.D. program in mathematics, Lopez Valdez arranged for two Ph.D. students from Mexico to come to campus this year on J-1 visas, with a third to join in the spring. The Ph.D. students get valuable teaching experience and supervision from Lopez Valdez, the department becomes more scientifically vital, and CSU’s students get to learn from Hispanic scholars which they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do.

The situation is a result of what department of mathematics and statistics chair Dr. Gregory Lupton describes as Lopez Valdez’s “combination of academic credentials and general gregariousness,” as well as his “eagerness to give people opportunity.”

It’s also a product of his initiative.

“This is not part of his job description,” said Lupton. “He’s looking around, seeing what’s here, and seeing possibilities for growth, extension, development.”

Lopez Valdez is hoping to organize accommodations and funding for additional Ph.D. students in the future, both from Mexico and elsewhere.

“I want to create the path,” he said.

Another one of Lopez Valdez’s extra projects is the development, across several departments of the university, of a program in quantum computing. He also is one of the developers of the coding theory package for Macaulay2, an open-source computer algebra system for research in algebraic geometry and commutative algebra. Lopez Valdez co-organized two workshops on Macaulay2, one of which was held on CSU’s campus and which Lupton credits for helping to significantly raise the profile of CSU in the international mathematical research community.

All the while, Lopez Valdez has served as faculty advisor to the Association of Latino Professionals for America and has worked closely with STEM Peer Teachers, a group focused on helping students do well in STEM courses. He has advised Ph.D., master’s, and undergraduate students at CSU, and he mentors graduate students in Mexico. He also informally advises the Latino community about opportunities to attend STEM events or pursue STEM degrees.

“He’s got his eye out for the Hispanic students and representing the community,” said Lupton. “He is bringing people along, providing them with opportunities that he has been able to take advantage of.”

Lopez Valdez puts it more simply by saying, “Every time that someone needs something, I help.”