Maxine Elena Calle

Graduate Student
University of Pennsylvania


Maxine Elena Calle is a Ph.D. student and 2020 NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Mathematics Department at the University of Pennsylvania. Hailing from a small beach town in San Diego, CA, her childhood was highly influenced by the melting pot of cultures in southern California. She spent many weekends splashing around in the ocean with the surfers, camping in the mountains with her hippie mother, or crossing the border to visit her father in Mexico. STEM classes were relatively easy for her, and she spent many math classes reading plays underneath her desk.

When it came time to go to college, Maxine thought she wanted to go to art school, or maybe she wanted to be a theoretical physicist, or maybe she wanted to study philosophy–so she ended up at a liberal arts college instead. She discovered her love of abstract mathematics as an undergraduate at Reed in Portland, OR. She received her BA in mathematics in 2020, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and began the Ph.D. program at UPenn in Fall 2020.

Maxine’s research focuses on algebraic topology and homotopy theory, and she's interested in how this abstract machinery can be applied to understand manifolds. In the mathematics department at UPenn, she co-organizes the Directed Reading Program, which pairs graduate students with undergraduates for independent studies and GeMs in Math, the graduate and faculty group supporting gender minorities in mathematics. Additionally, she’s collaborated with professional journalists to report on complex scientific issues as a 2023 AAAS Mass Media Fellow. She’s also taught and tutored college-accredited math courses to incarcerated students.

Maxine is committed to creating an environment where mathematics–and science more broadly–can be accessible and enjoyable for everyone. She believes that academics have a responsibility to use their skills for the betterment of others and that mathematical literacy should never be a barrier to opportunity.

“Hispanic Heritage Month gives me an opportunity to take a moment and reflect on my place within the Hispanic community. I grew up with very little connection to my Colombian heritage, and I struggle to feel ‘Latina enough.’ But I take joy in the beautiful cultural richness and diversity of our community and everything that we do for each other.”