Hortensia Soto

Professor of Mathematics and Graduate Recruitment Coordinator
University of Northern Colorado


Hortensia Soto was born in Jalisco, Mexico. When she was one, she, her older sister, and her parents immigrated to rural western Nebraska where she was raised on a farm. This is where she learned the value of a strong work ethic; it is also where she learned that she wanted an education. Her parents, who both have a third-grade education, taught her and modeled that through hard work, anything was possible. Hortensia is extremely grateful to her teachers who were patient with her, especially when she was first learning English. A pivotal moment in Hortensia’s life was when her 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Calvert, kept her in during recess so that Hortensia could catch up and be part of the group with the high grades. In high school, Hortensia was the substitute mathematics teacher when needed. Although she was certain she did not want to teach, today it is her passion. Hortensia earned her degrees from Chadron State College, University of Arizona, and University of Northern Colorado. She is currently a professor in the School of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado, where she works with prospective and in-service K-16 mathematics teachers. Hortensia is fortunate to be at an institution where she has the opportunity to blend her research and teaching and, thus, continually revises her teaching. Through her teaching, outreach efforts, and professional development, she always strives to “pay it forward” by opening doors for others as her teachers did for her. Most importantly, Hortensia is the mom of a good-hearted young man named Miguel.

As a mathematics educator, Hortensia’s work overlaps research, teaching, mentoring, and service endeavors. She has published in various areas of mathematics education including assessment, mathematical preparation of elementary teachers, outreach programs for high school girls, and especially in the area of teaching and learning of undergraduate mathematics. Her current research efforts related to the teaching and learning of complex analysis are paving the road in a new content domain and inform how to teach the course by blending geometric and algebraic reasoning. In her research and teaching, Hortensia adopts an embodied cognition perspective, which is a philosophy asserting that learning is body-based. As such, she creates embodied activities designed to invoke mathematical reasoning through physical or virtual human body experiences. Such activities include having students act out Euclidean transformations on a giant Cartesian plane, where the students act as vertices of polygonal shapes. Another example includes having students create Geometer Sketchpad games using complex functions, which requires them to connect the function behavior with a desired game movement and recognize complex functions as transformations on the complex plane.

Since her days as an undergraduate student, Hortensia has mentored young women and promoted mathematics via summer outreach programs. She co-founded and directed the program Las Chicas de Mathemáticas, an outreach program for high school girls who are introduced to college level mathematics and who learn to become lifelong learners. Hortensia also mentors numerous undergraduates and graduate students. One can frequently hear her say, “I was born to advise.” She loves nurturing her students about mathematics and about life and is not afraid to scold them if they need it. Her graduate students seem more like colleagues and many of them have gone on to publish in top-tier journals.

Hortensia has also been involved with facilitating professional development for K-16 teachers in Nebraska, Colorado, and California. She has also taught teachers from rural Nebraska as part of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln NSF-funded project, Math in the Middle. Currently, she is delivering professional development to collegiate teachers as part of Project PROMESAS SSC (Pathways with Regional Outreach and Mathematics Excellence for Student Achievement in STEM). This has been an opportunity for her to teach seasoned and novice faculty about rich mathematical tasks, student-centered learning, and sense of community all with an eye towards equity in the mathematics classroom. She is also a long-time working member of the Mathematical Association of America and currently serves as the Associate Secretary and is an editor of the MAA Instructional Practices Guide. She is also the coordinator for SIGMAA RUME. She has served on the editorial board of the Mathematics Teacher, published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and currently serves on the editorial board for the International Journal of Research in Undergraduate Mathematics. For 20 years, she has consulted for ACT, where she helps make decisions about mathematics items and about policy. Most recently, Hortensia received the MAA Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics.

“Hispanic Heritage Month means we are part of this country, we contribute to this country, and we are here to stay. It means that the sacrifice that my parents made for us was not in vain. It means that the work that my elementary teachers did for me is recognized. It means that I have a voice and that I can serve as a role model for others – regardless of their gender, their race, their sexual orientation, their religion, etc. It means that as a Hispanic mathematics educator, I am valued.”