Alejandra Castillo

PhD Student
Oregon State University


Alejandra and her family have roots in Guadalajara, Guanajuato, and Zacatecas, Mexico. Raised in a working-class community of immigrants within the San Gabriel Valley of California, she was fortunate to have a supportive family who encouraged her academic aspirations. In primary school, she found math to be a subject where she didn’t need to speak English to understand and solve problems. Although math was not something that came easily to her, she recognized that it was an area where she was willing to exercise the most patience. Alejandra was a recipient of the QuestBridge National College Match Scholarship, which allowed her to attend Pomona College. As an undergraduate student, Alejandra was interested in the fields of sociology and mathematics. The former was motivated by coursework and research with professor Gilda Ochoa in the areas of education and immigration. She was also interested in learning about how identity, culture, and politics shaped the environment of a math classroom and the experience of students in mathematics. Alejandra was selected as a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. This fellowship supported her research interests in applied mathematics, mathematical biology, and statistics. Through research experiences, she discovered how vast the field and applications of statistics were. Alejandra’s undergraduate thesis was on modifying nonlinear dimension reduction techniques for application in clinical data. Through mentorship and outreach programs, Alejandra graduated from Pomona College and is currently a graduate student in statistics at Oregon State University.

Broadly, Alejandra is interested in the fields of dimension reduction, inference, and statistics education. In her work, she has investigated how to efficiently use baseline values in a randomized clinical trial setting. One goal of this project was to improve how patient data is used to better discern treatment effects, characterize diseases, and help inform medical interventions. Alejandra has also worked with Computing Sciences at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to develop scalable inference algorithms that are efficient and effective for computationally expensive models. Motivated by ongoing projects in combustion and quantum computing, she is working on the development of new sampling strategies that can adaptively explore a potentially large-dimensional parameter space. In the field of unsupervised learning, Alejandra works in clustering for feature selection. Alejandra is also interested in closing gaps in retention that exist among students from backgrounds that have not been historically represented in the fields of mathematics and statistics. She has worked with Dr. Cindy Wyels, Dr. Marco V. Martinez, and Robert Trujillo on projects to better understand the impact that service-learning courses have on the academic outcomes of students at CSU Channel Islands.

As an alum of the Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS) program, Alejandra has returned to the program in various capacities to support high school youth as they prepare for college and beyond. She has continuously worked to support undocumented students in high school, college, and graduate school as they navigate prohibitive policies and changing immigration policies. She has organized Immigration Workshops, DACA Clinics, and undocumented student mentorship programs. Alejandra has been involved with the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project (CLYLP) and the California Association for Bilingual Education (CABE) organizations as an alum, organizer, and panelist. Alejandra has also mentored undergraduate students in statistics research through various research experiences such as the CSU Channel Islands Math REU.

As difficult as it may seem, Alejandra would encourage students not to feel discouraged when they don’t see their identity and experience reflected by professors, instructors, or leaders in their field. It’s certainly not easy to be the first and the only one. Mentorship and support come from many types of people. She would encourage students not to isolate themselves, “Creating a community when there isn’t one can be challenging, but it is powerful to be able to create a place of belonging for you and others.”

“This time provides visibility for the achievements of the Latinx communities in the mathematical sciences and society. It’s an opportunity to reflect on the doors opened by those who came before us. It’s also important to invite young mathematicians into the community by showcasing the diverse lived experiences people have in math and statistics. We can continuously challenge notions of what a mathematician looks like or comes from. It can be a time to reflect on the work that is yet to be done. I also hope these types of recognitions, reflections, and efforts are not limited to this month.”