Sireesh Vinnakota ’21

Sireesh Vinnakota

Even before we learn to walk, we begin pondering notions of mathematics in our daily lives. Right beside our memories of “hide and seek” and picture books are foundational steps of learning how to count and splitting snacks into equal parts to share. As we age, these ideas become more sophisticated along with us. Concepts of distance and inequality provide a basis for physics while optimization allows us to better understand budgets and “best” choices. This is all to say that though it may feel like a bunch of courses, mathematics is rather a point of view from which we may marvel at the wonders of our world.

For me, math has always been incredibly challenging- an experience that had more than once discouraged me from pursuing it any further. Though occasionally I enjoyed doing certain problems, I was not in any sense the best at it. At the time, that was a sufficient indicator to put it down and keep searching for other academic passions. When I enrolled at Pomona as a transfer student, I had meticulously planned out my undergraduate career as an economics and politics double major, with little wiggle room for anything else. During my first semester in Claremont, I used some of that extra time to enroll in linear algebra and multivariable calculus, two courses that are central not only to the mathematics major, but to the vast majority of disciplines. What I found was that, here at Pomona, mathematics is less a study motivated by personal accomplishment and more a family of individuals dedicated to challenging each other and succeeding together. It was not long before I began to fall in love with the majesty of it all. My classes became close-knit study circles that drew on the strengths of each member to better our collective understanding, tackling incredible problems in the process.

As I spent an increasing share of my free time in the palace that is Millikan Laboratory, the home of our Math Department, I began to marvel at the inclusivity of our department. Spanning four tracks (general, statistics, pure and applied), the major provides courses to all who wish to pursue math, regardless of background. Professors’ offices are almost perpetually open, providing guidance and friendly encouragement for weekly problem sets. Every evening, mentors who have taken a course in previous semesters offer two-hour sessions dedicated to collaboration in digesting course material and understanding homework. Together, the department operates as a paragon of inclusivity, proving time and time again that mathematics is a study for everyone, not just the best. Following the year of courses in abstract algebra and analysis, I declared my major in pure mathematics, finally convincing myself that, at the end of the day, the things we do are purely out of a love of the game and all the different applications it can have. This new perspective had opened doors in every direction, as I even conducted research in economics and game theory once again.

I chose to major in mathematics because, right from learning to count as a kid, it has been such a central part of understanding the world.