sfsu-colombia combinatorics initiative
san francisco state university
universidad de los andes
federico ardila

. lo que hacemos . what we do . courses . videos . papers . people . ecco . press .

I was born in Colombia, and it was there that I first got excited about mathematics. I have lived in the US for half of my life, but I have always kept close contact with Colombia and its mathematics community. When I finished my Ph.D. in combinatorics in 2003 there was essentially no activity in this field in Colombia, and I wanted to do something about it. In 2005 I joined San Francisco State University, a math department that does amazing things on a small budget, and has a student body as diverse and talented as California's population. It's been a great pleasure to work in both locations at once.

Since 2007 I have taught 5 joint courses simultaneously at SFSU and Universidad de Los Andes on different topics in combinatorics. Berkeley students also cross-register. I have posted about 200 hours of lecture videos, lecture notes, homework, and other resources for anyone to use freely. I try to keep the lectures accessible to people of varying mathematical backgrounds. I am skeptical of the ongoing "online revolution" in education, but I am also excited about the possibilities that technology opens up for us; and I do get very happy to discover dedicated viewers in the US, Colombia, Palestine, Nicaragua, and Guyana, among many others.

I teach my classes mostly at SFSU and broadcast them to Colombia, using a wonderful, low-budget, artisanal setup by my colleague Arek Goetz. I visit Bogota as often as I can, and hold electronic office hours when I can't. Students do the (challenging!) homework together, discuss the topics in a class blog, and pair up to do final projects on topics of their choice. Many groups are international. Many projects continue after the class is over, and become articles and theses.

Every few years we hold the Encuentro Colombiano de Combinatoria, attended by students and researchers from SFSU, Colombia, and many other places. We have minicourses by international experts, research talks, a hike or two, and a visit to one of Colombia's legendary salsa clubs. We do our best to build a very professional and very welcoming atmosphere. We are collaborators, but we are also a community.

The initiative has directly involved over 100 students, more than half of whom are members of underrepresented groups in mathematics. Many participants pursue academic careers in mathematics. Many continue to be mathematics users, enthusiasts, and ambassadors in other fields: teaching, engineering, biology, urban planning, economics, and music, to name a few. We try to instill a collective belief in doing good work for society through mathematics. I am particularly pleased that many participants remain actively engaged with the young people in their communities in Colombia and the Bay Area.

This project is funded by an NSF CAREER grant, San Francisco State University, and the Universidad de Los Andes. If you are interested in supporting our work, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Federico Ardila
Associate Professor, San Francisco State University
Profesor Adjunto, Universidad de Los Andes
Visiting Professor, University of California, Berkeley