Luis Antonio Leyva

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Education
Vanderbilt University - Peabody College of Education & Human Development


Luis Antonio Leyva was raised in a small Cuban household in West New York, NJ, a small town with a predominantly Latinx population that borders the Hudson River and New York City. He attended Rutgers University-New Brunswick where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 2006. The drive behind Luis’s professional pursuits in education is following in the footsteps of his father, who worked as a literature professor in Cuba’s La Escuela de Economía de José Machado Rodríguez for a decade. In 2011, Luis earned a master’s degree in mathematics education from the Rutgers Graduate School of Education and was certified as a K-12 mathematics teacher in New Jersey. He later competed a doctoral degree in mathematics education with a graduate certification in women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University in 2016.

Luis holds over six years of professional experience across various initiatives for supporting minoritized students in STEM, including work as a residential mentor for a summer bridge program and summer mathematics instructor for TRIO Upward Bound (U.S. Department of Education). In 2015, the National Academy of Education and Spencer Foundation distinguished Luis with a Dissertation Fellowship that recognizes early-career, interdisciplinary scholars undertaking innovative research for the improvement of education. As a Fellow, Luis wrote findings from his dissertation that detailed culturally-affirming instruction and student support meaningful to undergraduate Latinx students in their mathematical success and engineering persistence. Luis also received the 2018 Early Career Publication Award from the American Educational Research Association’s special interest group on research in mathematics education for his publication, “Unpacking the Male Superiority Myth and Masculinization of Mathematics at the Intersections” (Journal for Research in Mathematics Education). Currently, Luis is an assistant professor of mathematics education in the Peabody College of Education & Human Development at Vanderbilt University.

Luis’s experience as a student, educator, and higher education professional shaped his intellectual curiosities as an educational researcher. His research examines how historically marginalized students at intersections of race, gender, and sexuality construct their identities while navigating educational contexts of P-16 mathematics, including pursuits of mathematics-intensive STEM majors. Luis’s research draws on semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and observations to characterize mathematics education contexts and capture historically marginalized students’ narratives of experience in them. With analyses framed by Black feminist theory and counter-storytelling methodology from critical race theory, this body of research centers historically marginalized students’ voices to catalyze change in P-16 mathematics instruction and STEM student support and broadens socially affirming learning opportunities.

As an illustrative example of Luis’s research, he is a principal investigator for a three-year grant project funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) entitled Challenging, Operationalizing, and Understanding Racialized and Gendered Events (COURAGE) in Undergraduate Mathematics. This project’s primary goal is to inform mathematics faculty members’ professional development of equitable instruction in pre-calculus and calculus courses, which operate as gatekeepers of STEM majors among historically marginalized students. COURAGE aims to accomplish this through developing a typology of marginalizing and socially affirming events in classroom instruction based on journaling from minoritized students at different intersections of racial and gender identities.

Luis’s teaching experience includes serving as a pre-service teacher educator for courses on mathematics teaching methods and issues of educational equity in the classroom. He currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on elementary mathematics methods at Vanderbilt. His teaching builds pre-service teachers’ conceptual knowledge of mathematics and teaching practices that advance conceptual understanding. To do this, Luis adopts problem-posing instruction that models how to: (i) support P-12 students in making mathematical sense of their problem solving strategies and (ii) structure participation opportunities that challenge constructions of status of mathematics ability. In addition to pre-service teacher education, Luis teaches in the Learning, Teaching & Diversity Ph.D. program. He designed a graduate seminar entitled Power & Identity in STEM that explores how identity, discipline-specific ideologies and practices, institutional structures and norms, and power relations function to shape STEM educational opportunities and experiences.

Luis is actively engaged in mentoring and service for the field of mathematics education. He has advised several undergraduate research assistants, including a McNair Scholar recently accepted to a master’s program in mathematics education at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign. Luis has served as a thesis reader and dissertation committee member for graduate students pursuing equity-oriented research in mathematics and STEM education. In terms of national service, Luis has served on the STEM Education & Learning Research review panel for the 2018 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program and program committee for the Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education (RUME) Conference under the Mathematical Association of America. He is the co-founder of the Equity Working Group in the RUME Conference, a contributing writer for the MAA’s Instructional Practices Guide, and an editorial board member for the American Mathematical Society’s inclusion/exclusion blog on issues pertaining to marginalized groups in mathematics.

“The life and work of U.S. presidential inaugural poet, Richard Blanco, inspire what Hispanic Heritage Month means to me. Blanco’s poetry centers the questions, “Where am I from? Where do I belong? Who am I in this world?” to engage artistic inquiry about his intersecting social identities and meanings of U.S. nationhood. As a queer Cuban-American educator interrogating narratives of educational injustice in mathematical sciences, Blanco’s poetry shapes my view of Hispanic Heritage Month as celebrating Latinx and Hispanic individuals’ lived experiences of “complexities and contradictions” that galvanize their efforts for social justice, both personal and professional, in U.S. society.”