Darleen S. Perez-Lavin

Research Associate, Naval Information Warfare Center


Dr. Darleen S. Perez-Lavin received her bachelor's degree in Engineering Management from Purdue University. She worked in construction management for just under 5 years before going back to graduate school. The original goal was to get a master’s in applied mathematics as a gateway to a Ph.D. in engineering. During her Applied Mathematics master’s degree at Florida Gulf Coast University, she fell in love with the difficulty and complexity of pure mathematics. So, she continued her math journey at the University of Kentucky where she finished her Ph.D. in number theory. During her years at the University of Kentucky, she was awarded the SMART Fellowship, funded by the Department of Defense. This fellowship is tied with years of service where she took the position as a research associate at a National naval lab.

Before attending graduate school, Dr. Darleen Perez-Lavin worked in construction management and became a licensed general contractor in the state of Florida.

While attending the Ph.D. program at the University of Kentucky, Darleen was funded by the Department of Defense SMART (Science, Mathematics, and Research for Transformation) Fellowship for three years. Through this program, she obtained her current position at the Naval Information Warfare Center.

In her current position, understanding a wide variety of mathematics comes in handy. She has worked in areas that range from topological data analysis and integer programming to understanding how to apply current graph theory methods to the scope of the problem. So, having a good foundation in algebra and analysis is beneficial. Mathematics teaches you how to think outside of the box. In this position, Dr.Perez-Lavin comes to the table with the understanding that the goal is to use her current math foundation and apply it in a way that those from other disciplines might not be aware are possible. For example, in a current project, she introduced the idea of using the greedy algorithm on a complete graph to find a minimal spanning tree using a linear program to help solve a computationally taxing problem in particle physics. On a team with a physicist and a computer scientist, they are not aware of these applications. Her job is to learn how the current literature is able to encode the greedy algorithm using a linear program and try to understand how this can be applied to the current project scope and how to communicate these ideas to a non-math team.

Every year she selects an under-represented organization and volunteers her time. In the past, she has volunteered for organizations such as The Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and is currently volunteering for the Black graduate professional student association. Outside of academics, she volunteers her time as a math tutor and also as a soccer coach. After settling in her new position, she is looking forward to finding a new community to volunteer for.

Dr. Perez-Lavin advises students to: “study what you love but try and venture out past your comfort zone. The more you learn how to handle working in an area with which you are unfamiliar, the easier it becomes”. As an example, Dr. Perez-Lavin studied number theory but took classes in numerical analysis and biostatistics. While she is not an expert in bio stats or numerical analysis when she sees a paper or someone presenting in this area, she has a sense of keywords and knows where to start asking questions. She is not intimidated by not knowing the area because she has practiced working outside of her comfort zone. This practice has given her the confidence and courage that she will be able to contribute once she starts diving in.

“I love my culture and heritage, but where I grew up I didn't quite fit in because not many people were like me. It was not until I went to my first Hispanic math conference where I was able to meet and connect with others who had similar experiences to mine. After listening to others' math journey stories, I felt at home and understood. Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to get to know others where we share something in common. It is a way to get back to your roots and be proud of where you came from, and it is a time to celebrate our differences and explore new connections.”