Dr. Amanda Ruiz: Blazing Trails with Math

By Aynsley, Carrington, Susan, Tehya, and others

In recent years, more and more women are using math to tackle serious social issues such as gender inequality and lack of diversity in STEM careers. These trailblazers pave the way for the newest generation of women and minorities in STEM, inspiring them to become active for what they believe in. One such example is seen within the field of mathematics: Dr. Amanda Ruiz of the University of San Diego.

Who is Dr. Amanda Ruiz?

Dr. Amanda Ruiz, PhD. Source: Mathematical Association of America

Dr. Amanda Ruiz was born in Long Beach, Southern California, and grew up in Huntington Beach. After completing high school, she moved to attend UC Berkeley. She created her own undergraduate degree in Social Movement from UC Berkeley and then returned later to receive her degree in Mathematics. After college she continued on to complete her Master’s degree in Mathematics at San Francisco State University. She then received her PhD in Mathematics from Binghamton University. Thereafter, Dr. Ruiz spent a year teaching at Harvey Mudd College in the Math Department before moving to work at the University of San Diego as an assistant professor of Mathematics in 2014. Throughout her education and teaching journeys, she created communities wherever she went. She started groups to create community and to bring together women and people of color in math. Outside of her professional life, Ruiz enjoys spending time with her family. 

Why did she choose math? 

Dr. Ruiz’s original degree was not mathematics. As an undergraduate student, she created her own degree in Social Movements. Her interest in the mathematics career did not begin until she realized that mathematics is a social justice issue. This realization inspired her to return to college and obtain her Master’s and PhD in mathematics. While attending San Francisco State University, Dr. Ruiz founded the student group Mathematistas, which gathers together a community of female graduate students, supporting and working towards gender equity in the mathematics field. This was the beginning of Dr. Ruiz’s work for underrepresented groups and the social justice issue in math.

Visibility of mathematicians of color is critical in the effort to broaden participation in mathematics. The more mathematicians we see that don’t fit in with the majority…the more we can challenge the perception that you have to have a particular identity, career goal, or background to be a mathematician.

Dr. Amanda Ruiz

What she’s doing now 

If you are looking for Dr. Ruiz, you will most likely find her in a classroom at the University of San Diego. But just because she is a teacher doesn’t mean she stays in the classroom all the time – Dr. Ruiz frequently collaborates with undergraduates to pursue different research topics, and she’s also honing in on her own research in the field of combinatorics. In essence, she’s studying relationships and counting. Combinatorics makes use of high school probability concepts, like permutations, combinations (hence the name), and hypothetical situations. Dr. Ruiz has also continued exploring matroids, a topic that piqued her interest in graduate school and ultimately became the focus of her dissertation, “Realization spaces of phased matroids.” She’s been busy since earning her PhD, publishing at least three mathematical papers and countless more articles designed to encourage women and minorities to enter STEM fields. Dr. Ruiz is also using her knowledge to make mathematics more accessible for women and students of color. Outside of work, though, Dr. Ruiz is a dedicated mother and wife, and – fun fact – enjoys playing soccer.

What she’s endured

One day, as Dr. Ruiz was getting ready to apply to graduate school, she found herself sitting on a plane next to her dream thesis advisor at her dream school. He said that he saw promise in her, and as long as she didn’t bomb the GRE, a standardized math test taken by prospective graduate students, she had a really strong chance of getting in. However, Dr. Ruiz hadn’t studied much for the test. In fact, she hadn’t studied at all. Every time she opened a GRE study book, she found that it just didn’t value her type of smart. While she was used to solving three to four multiple step, composite problems in a couple of weeks, she was instead expected to complete sixty problems in three hours for the GRE. 

Dr. Ruiz and her daughter. Source: Lathisms

A week later, she didn’t do well on her GRE. She had bombed the test, and so her top choices for graduate school were out of the list, as well as her backup schools. In the end, she ended up  going to a school she almost didn’t apply to. It seemed like a failure, but it turned out to be better than she’d expected. She didn’t have the mathematical community she had hoped for in graduate school, but she had advisors who appreciated her situation  This flexibility in time allowed her to not only earn her PhD, but also raise her child. As she said, “If I had been at my ‘dream school,’ it is unlikely that I would have been able to continue to work towards my PhD or, at the very least, finish in a timely manner while caring for my daughter.” Her failure turned out to be her achievement, and it set her on a path which she might have not otherwise been able to take so early on. 

What she’s accomplished

Dr. Ruiz’s hard work has been recognized repeatedly in the form of awards and scholarships. As a student, she earned the Mathematics Bridge Scholarship Award and the Lawrence Chang Memorial Scholarship Award, both from San Francisco State University. These recognized her commitment to “excellence in mathematics” and “encourag[ing] mathematics careers among groups historically underrepresented in mathematics” (“Scholarships and Fellowships”). Her drive for excellence continued into graduate school, where she was awarded the Excellence in Research Award, which honors students who go above and beyond traditional requirements. While these scholarships and awards certainly are impressive, they’re also a reminder that Dr. Ruiz has faced many challenges and has been rewarded for her dedication and persistence. She’s a real person, with flaws and strengths, and it just so happens that other people saw these strengths and wanted to celebrate them.

Dr. Ruiz has worked very hard to get to where she is today. She did not have the mathematical community she hoped for in graduate school, and she felt left behind at her master’s institution. However, she had some remarkably supportive faculty mentors, and she has made communities wherever she has gone. One thing she said: “Maybe, in a weird way, bombing the GRE was exactly what needed to happen.”


“Amanda Ruiz.” Lathisms, Lathisms, www.lathisms.org/calendar-2017/amanda-ruiz. Accessed 25 June 2021.

“Amanda Ruiz, PhD.” College of Arts and Sciences – University of San Diego, University of San Diego, www.sandiego.edu/cas/faculty/biography.php?profile_id=733. Accessed 25 June 2021.

Bose, Raj C. and Grünbaum, Branko. “Combinatorics”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 14 Aug. 2013, https://www.britannica.com/science/combinatorics. Accessed 25 June 2021.

Lawrence, Emille D., et al. Living Proof: Stories of Resilience Along the Mathematical Journey. American Mathematical Society, 2019. http://www.ams.org/about-us/LivingProof.pdf.

“News of the Section.” Mathematical Association of America Southern California-Nevada Section Newsletter, Mathematical Association of America, Fall 2014. http://sections.maa.org/socalnv/News2014Fall.html.

“Provost’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research.” External Scholarships and Undergraduate Research CenterBinghamton University, Binghamton University, https://www.binghamton.edu/student-research-and-scholarship/fund/provost-award.html. Accessed 25 June 2021.

Riley Evans, Jane Friedman, Lynn McGrath, Perla Myers, and Amanda Ruiz. “Math Path: Encouraging Female Students in Mathematics Through Project-Based Learning.” PRIMUS, vol. 28, no. 4, 2018, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10511970.2017.1339154. Accessed 25 June 2021.

Ruiz, Amanda. “About.” Amanda Ruiz, Ph.D, University of San Diego. https://sites.sandiego.edu/alruiz/about/. Accessed 25 June 2021.

Ruiz, Amanda. Curriculum vitae. http://home.sandiego.edu/~alruiz/cv.pdf 

“Scholarships and Fellowships in the Mathematics Department.” Department of Mathematics, San Francisco State University, http://math.sfsu.edu/scholarships.php. Accessed 25 June 2021.

“WomenDoMath Interview – Amanda Ruiz.” YouTube, uploaded by WomenDoMath, 6 September 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0COqWBpt8Y. Accessed 25 June 2021.

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