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Black History Month
2023 Honoree

Back to Circle of Excellence
Ayanna Perry

Ayanna Perry

Associate Director, Teaching Fellows Program

Knowles Teacher Initiative


Where are you from?

I am from immigrant parents who were born in the Caribbean island of Trinidad ( twin island to Tobago). I am from a culture of soca and calypso, of bake and saltfish, and of determination and the expectation of perfect grades. I am from a loving and connected family that rejoices in our shared successes and rallies when there are struggles to bear. I am from HBCUs and seeing the beauty in Black brilliance.


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

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in a “mathy” family. It was common for us to play games calculating the total of a grocery bill or trying to calculate the cost of a discounted shoe to the penny. These games helped me trust my mathematical reasoning skills and gain proficiency in calculations. Much later, during Number Theory and Linear Algebra courses, I saw math as more connected, as something that I could work hard to understand, and as something I could explain to others. While not a subject that always came easy, it was one that I could persist in making sense of.


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

There are three accomplishments in my career that I am most proud of.

1. My Master’s Thesis that mapped the trajectory of students through a math department. This research cemented for me that the work of an equitable educator is not to figure out who is and isn’t “smart” in math but to ensure that all of the supports necessary are available for students who are impacted by gatekeeper courses.

2. When I was teaching high school I was able to be a mathematician in front of students. I was able to show them my authentic enthusiasm for the content, my passion for teaching and getting to know them, and my willingness to learn how to teach them alongside their willingness to learn.

3. My current work supporting math and science teachers in developing equitable classroom practices is another major accomplishment of my career. I am dedicated to supporting teachers in realizing the ways that they can develop their equitable teaching practice.


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

I am most proud of the lessons I’ve been able to learn in my roles of daughter, sister, wife, and mother. As a person driven by excellence and accomplishment, I’ve learned to extend and receive grace, compassion, empathy, and patience in these roles. In addition, being able to model curiosity, determination, and play in our family is a gift.


Please share some words of wisdom/inspiration.

There are a few quotes or ideas that I return to when life feels too challenging.

1. When I was a new mother, it occurred to me that two people could be working diligently towards the same goal and be struggling mightily. The struggle was not evidence of any flaws in either person but rather evidence of a challenging feat. I return to this lesson whenever I am met with challenges in collaboration. It allows me to extend grace and lead with learning rather than judgement.

2. My favorite quote is by Maya Angelou. It is “Nothing will work unless you do.” This quote frames my perspective on purpose. I am deeply passionate about the work of supporting teachers and believe that through our joint work, more students will be well served in classrooms across the nation. As a Black woman in the field of mathematics education, I believe that if I continue to work and support others in their work, amazing things can be accomplished.

3. Finally, “If you did it before, you can do it again.” Early in my doctoral studies, I lacked confidence in my own ability to be successful in the program. One day while I was struggling to complete an assignment, Cyndi Edgington, another student, said if you made it through yesterday, you have proof that you can make it through today. This became a sort of mantra between us. She reminded me at the end of my first semester, that since I’d succeeded in the previous semester, that I was sure to succeed in the next. Our previous successes are the foundation for our future successes. We just need to look to those as motivation and evidence of our excellence.