Cristina Runnalls is a first-generation Mexican American and proud daughter of immigrants. She was raised in the Central Valley in California, in a small town surrounded by vineyards and orchards as far as the eye could see. She grew up visiting those vineyards while her parents worked as seasonal farm laborers. One message she heard time and time again was the importance of education to provide a better life—one that did not require backbreaking labor in the harsh sun—and she took that to heart. This education did not come easily. Gaps between language at school and home, overt racism by peers, and feelings of alienation in gifted programs became the norm. Despite these challenges, mathematics always drew Cristina’s attention as a beautiful thing, a space to hide but also to excel. Cristina’s love of mathematics throughout grade school eventually led her to pursue a mathematics degree at California State University, Fresno. The notion of what mathematics was transformed during her time there, and by her junior year she had been approached by professors to take on research projects, participate in summer programs, and consider further studies in mathematics. Ultimately, Cristina attended the Mathematics PhD program at the University of Iowa. She earned her Master’s in 2013, but shortly thereafter, felt uncertainty in her path. She found joy in teaching mathematics but had grown out of love with research. Her feelings culminated in leaving the program during her fourth year and transferring instead to the College of Education in the same institution. Mathematics education was ultimately a far better fit, and she completed her PhD in Mathematics Education in 2018. Currently she has rekindled her relationship with mathematics through the lens of education and works as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at Cal Poly Pomona.
Cristina’s research in mathematics education has been driven by her own experiences in education, which were at times empowering in what she could accomplish, and at times completely disconnected from her family and culture. Her research focuses broadly on addressing issues of access and opportunity for culturally and linguistically diverse students in mathematics, grounded within a framework that acknowledges the powerful social, cultural, and political influences in the classroom. Within this thread, she works extensively with both pre-service and in-service teachers to help support their math classrooms towards becoming a more socially just and rehumanizing space. A subset of this work has involved preservice teacher education, specifically work that supports elementary pre-service teachers to develop content, pedagogical, and political knowledge for teaching mathematics. Current ongoing projects include exploring the intertwining of cultural diversity and mathematics found in children’s books, as well as grant work that aims to address inequities in access to quality elementary mathematics teacher education in the transition from community college to university.
As an Assistant Professor in Mathematics with a focus on mathematics education, Cristina primarily teaches mathematics for future teachers of every level, including elementary, secondary, and tertiary. Together with her students, Cristina tackles questions regarding how to help students develop conceptual understanding of mathematics, how to support connecting mathematics to students’ everyday lives and cultures, and how to ensure our mathematics classrooms are welcoming spaces for students of all cultural and linguistic backgrounds. There is a significant intersection between Cristina’s teaching and scholarship, with the two constantly informing and supporting growth of the other—this is one of the things she deeply appreciates about her work in mathematics education.
In addition to working with preservice teachers, Cristina also supports in-service teachers through her role as Director of the California Mathematics Project at Cal Poly Pomona. This project focuses primarily on providing professional development opportunities to K-12 mathematics teachers in the geographic region. Under the leadership of Cristina and together with the invaluable help of her colleagues and co-directors, the project has focused on the ways in which teachers can incorporate cultural and linguistic relevance for students, the interweaving of social justice topics into mathematics, and more general equitable teaching practices for mathematics.
For students, Cristina recommends first and foremost to seek out mentorship—from everyone possible. While it is impossible to take every piece of advice ever received, listening to diverse perspectives can help inform and guide your decisions. Additionally, she tells students, “mentors are invaluable assets in helping you find research and teaching opportunities, interesting programs, funding sources, and more.” Cristina still feels thankful to her pre-calculus teacher (hi Mrs. Williams!), to her undergraduate research mentor (hi Carmen!), and to so many other people for their help and guidance—and she hopes future students can find help and mentorship from her as well.
“One of my favorite quotes is by Gloria Anzaldúa: ‘They'd like to think I have melted in the pot. But I haven't. We haven't.’ This month is a time when we can come together to share our unique stories, complex lives, and amazing contributions, all while celebrating wholeheartedly the most important pieces of ourselves: our heritage, our languages, and our cultures. These have not melted and they have not disappeared—they remain a part of us, now and always.”