Math is more than numbers…A talk with Marcos Lopez


Colin Stevenson

Associate professor Marcos Lopez didn’t immediately fall in love with math, and instead came to love it over time while earning a degree at University of North Texas, April 20.

Wichita Falls native and associate mathematics Professor, Marcos Lopez, says despite the misconception that most mathematicians have always loved math…his was gradual.

“I actually didn’t fall in love with math until well after I had been doing it for many years. I’m actually from Wichita Falls; born and raised and I attended high school at Hirshi. I had amazing teachers there, I was good at it, and I knew I was good at it, but it wasn’t the ‘thing’ I did. I was very much a band geek and a music kid,” Lopez said.

Math wasn’t Lopez’s first choice. He attended the University of North Texas for his undergrad when he noticed the career path for music would take much longer than math.

“I am a first-generation student; I didn’t know anything about what all you could do in college. I didn’t even know you could double major and when I found out – it was too late for me to want to do that. It was longer for me to do the music degree; but I knew I was good at math, so I just thought to myself ‘Oh, I’ll just start with math and see how it goes’ and I just continued to do it and continued doing well in it. More and more I started to really like math,” Lopez said.

Associate professor Marcos Lopez is also the Faculty in Residence at Legacy Hall, so he often interacts with students who work with housing, April 20.
Associate professor Marcos Lopez is also the Faculty in Residence at Legacy Hall, so he often interacts with students who work with housing, April 20. (Colin Stevenson)

At the end of his undergraduate career at UNT…Lopez decided that he wanted to continue studying math. It was suggested he apply for graduate school into which he was accepted, at the University of Cincinnati.

“When I was accepted into graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, while I was there, that’s when I can confidently say, I ended up liking math. Once you go to grad school, you’re surrounded by people of diverse backgrounds and lifestyles, but you all have that one thing in common…and ours was that we like math. Being surrounded by others that were enthusiastic about math, made me enthusiastic about studying the subject. I love when people ask me if I have always wanted to do math because I get to tell them my story and say ‘no, I actually was the kid with the drumsticks and a guitar, and I just did a lot of other stuff that you may not think I did,” Lopez said.

As his gradual love for math, came gradually his decision to be a teacher as well. Lopez says it wasn’t until his last year of grad school when he decided teaching was the path he was going to take.  

“I was at the University of Cincinnati for six years. Six years to get the PhD and you already start teaching mildly, like as a teacher assistant. I would do problem sessions for students, and by your second and third year, you start teaching your own courses and I had started winning awards and being recognized even by teaching those courses. I had then visited a friend of mine at Kenyon college; a private liberal arts school and I saw how it was different in comparison to the big schools I had been at like UNT and then Cincinnati which both have more than 40,000 students and just fell in love with the environment. I decided I wasn’t going to apply for positions at heavy schools, just liberal arts schools…one of which was in my very hometown… MSU. Furthermore, it had just so happened the department was in search for hiring a new professor to replace David Tucker who was retiring,” Lopez said.  

Lopez said it was comforting moving back to Wichita Falls since he was born and raised here.

“I already have friends, family here, I’m never going to get lost because I know where everything is at, and I still had friends that were in Denton that I went to UNT with and that just was really important for me. I had already moved out of Wichita for sometimes because I didn’t just want to stay here forever, so it all just worked out,’ Lopez said.

Lopez says math is more than just numbers. More than solving problems and getting the ‘right answer’.   

“It’s not what people typically think. A lot of people just assume it’s numbers. Math is knowing three things are true and figuring out what else is true based on those three things. It’s not just trigonometry, or calculus. It’s a way to look at systems and at logic and make a prediction and then test it. I get so much satisfaction watching students as they grow in our program solve and figure things out themselves,”  Lopez said.

When starting in his math courses, Marcos Lopez goes over why taking a certain math class is helpful to the students, April 20.
When starting in his math courses, Marcos Lopez goes over why taking a certain math class is helpful to the students, April 20. (Colin Stevenson)

Lopez shared how he teaches students that are required to take courses such as college algebra or contemporary math and may feel defeated even before walking into the classroom.

“Day one of math courses that are required by the university that end up having majority students from other majors; I always run a discussion. I ask, why are you in this course? Why does your program think you need to take this course? I think students come in negatively because they don’t already know the answers, but I don’t expect them to. That’s why I am here to teach the course. I expect you to learn it over the fifteen weeks that I have with you. People are scared to make mistakes but you can’t learn without making mistakes and that’s okay. Coming in with the mind that you can’t do it, will only make it harder,” Lopez said.

A quote that Lopez lives by is “There are very few decisions that you can make that will derail your entire life. A lot of times, you can get caught up in what decision you should make; just make one and then decide if you like it or not. You will almost never make a decision that is the ‘wrong’ decision…because there isn’t a right one.’ Lopez said.