Dr. Sánchez completed her B.S. in pure math at the University of Miami. As an undergraduate, Ayla participated in a work-study program for the math department at UM. As a work-study student, she aided in secretarial duties until a department member observed her helping a student who was stuck on a homework problem. She was then pushed to become a tutor for the department and a passion for teaching was born. Ayla completed an M.S. in pure math at the University of Miami and a pure math Ph.D. at Tufts University, where she balanced a research career in geometric group theory with a robust teaching assistant course load. After graduating, she took a teaching-focused position as a visiting assistant professor at Wheaton College (MA), teaching a wide range of mathematics and statistics courses. Exiting her academic career, Ayla took a position as a technical writer at MathWorks, where she primarily wrote software documentation to help users with statistical software. After several months, Ayla transitioned to the EdTech industry to combine her newfound programming expertise with her passion for teaching. She currently works as a Statistics Content Developer at zyBooks, where her main duties involve creating interactive textbook content in an online learning platform.
Upon entering graduate school, Dr. Sánchez was granted a Dean's Science Fellowship, which was a one-year, merit-based fellowship for incoming graduate students from underrepresented groups. As a teaching assistant, she was awarded a Distinguished Teaching Prize. During her time as a visiting assistant professor, she was part of a team that was awarded a grant for transitioning calculus courses to free, open educational resources, decreasing the financial burden placed on students.
In her daily job, Dr. Sánchez uses probability and statistics to design classroom tools for statistics education that use a simulation-based inference approach. For example, a traditional approach to a one-sample z-test would calculate a z-score from a sample proportion and plug it into software or a table to get a p-value from a normal distribution. For her, a simulation-based approach sidesteps the need for a distribution, so she instead has made classroom software that calculates an empirical p-value by simulating coin flips using only basic underlying assumptions about the random process the sample proportion summarizes.
Dr. Sánchez’s advice for undergraduates wanting to work in business, industry, or government is to “practice coding in your own time as much as you can. A multitude of jobs that give the opportunity to think about interesting mathematics are locked behind career paths that require one to have a strong programming background.” Students who, like Dr. Sánchez, have primarily focused on pure mathematics coursework could especially benefit from gaining programming proficiency as a means to a rewarding business, industry, or government career.
“Growing up in a Hispanic-majority area of the United States surrounded by a proud Cuban family, I did not feel isolated or alone in my identity until leaving home for graduate school. I sometimes felt as though I didn't belong, acutely aware that I was often the only Hispanic/Latin@ mathematician in the room. I've grown to feel that Hispanic Heritage Month is a chance to feel seen – to recognize that we have a place both in the math world and society at large.”