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Black History Month
2019 Honoree

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Kasso Okoudjou

Kasso Okoudjou

Professor of Mathematics

University of Maryland

Where are you from?

I grew up in Benin (West Africa) where I earned an undergraduate degree in Mathematics. In 1998 I moved to the United States for graduate school and earned a Ph.D. in Mathematics from The Georgia Institute of Technology.

 

Please describe an experience (or 2) that helped you discover/ cultivate your interest in the mathematical sciences.

Growing up I thought I was heading toward a career in Law or Diplomacy until I had a conversation with my father who is a philosopher by training. This changed my perspectives and I started contemplating a career in engineering or medicine. By the time I graduated high school with a Baccalaureate with a concentration in Mathematics and Physics, one of my best friends, Armel Kelome, convinced me to Major in Mathematics. We both ended up graduating from Georgia Tech with our Ph.D. in Mathematics, having been recruited by Wilfrid Gangbo.

 

What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your career in the mathematical sciences?

This is a difficult question for me since I am quite hard on myself! However, some of the career accomplishments that I am proud of include advising and graduating 5 students (to date), and some of the papers I wrote. But most importantly, I am quite proud of how much mathematical research has helped me grow not only as a researcher but as a person! In particular, I worked on an open problem for 13 years and went through an emotional roller coaster. Two years ago, I finally decided to submit some of the partial results I obtained.

What is/are your most proud accomplishment(s) in regards to your personal life?

I am thankful for my wife, Rouky, and our three children. Being able to be part of my children daily life and activities have been a source of immense pleasure and pride.

 

Please share some words of wisdom/inspiration.

I believe that there are two kinds of mathematicians, those who are “born with it”(a very small percentage), and those (the large percentage, including myself) who work hard to learn and excel in the field. It pains me when students get discouraged to pursue a career in the mathematical sciences because of the widespread myth that makes them believe that they need to be a genius to be in the field. I urge undergraduate students with some inclination to Math, to just focus on the long-term hard work so that they too can become a mathematician. My own experience is a testament to this: Looking back, I do not think I was the most (mathematically) talented student in my classes. However, I think I was determined to learn and excel, and I feel I am still on this path.