Elaine Herrera, mathematics instructor

PROFile: Alleviating the ‘fear in students’ eyes

Elaine Herrera, a mathematics instructor at the University of Winnipeg, knows some people find her subject intimidating.

She focuses on empowering her students and helping them build the confidence to confront their math-induced fears. She tries to nurture a love for the subject, even when students are initially apprehensive.

“I absolutely love helping students feel like they can do math,” Herrera says. “Math is one of those subjects that elicits so much fear in students’ eyes. Being the support to help students build the confidence to be a student and do math is one of the best things about my job.”

She says every student has the potential to master math, and she strives to be the support that helps them unlock that potential.

As a student herself, Herrera attended the University of Manitoba and earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics degree in 2019. She took a discrete math course there that introduced her to abstract mathematics.

“That’s the course that actually switched me out of business school and into the math program,” Herrera says. She found abstract mathematics captivating, because it exposed the interconnectedness of various math disciplines.

Herrera was born in the Philippines and made her transcontinental journey at three years old.

Her memories of the Philippines may be faint, but one vivid recollection stands out: the awe of her first snowfall.

“My earliest memory is my first snowfall,” Herrera says. “My dad was saying, ‘Look, it’s raining snow.’ I was just like, ‘No, it’s snowing rain.’”

She cites her parents as her most significant influences while growing up. Her close-knit family, deeply rooted in Filipino culture, emphasized the importance of preserving their heritage.

“Being an immigrant, keeping our cultural roots was very important to me and my family,” she says. Herrera’s family gatherings were a cornerstone of her life, as they continued to bond with extended family members living in Winnipeg.

Beyond her role as an educator, Herrera finds solace in her creative pursuits, particularly in fiber-art crafts like cross-stitching, embroidery and sewing. These activities give balance to her rigorous academic life, allowing her to explore her artistic side and create beautiful handcrafted pieces.

What was your worst grade in university?

“My worst grade in university was an A. I really studied hard, and I learned very early on how to study and what study techniques worked for me.”

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

“I want the power to slow down time, but I can go at any pace! I feel like if I can slow down time, I have more control over my movements.”

What was your favourite toy as a child?

“So there’s two that come to mind. One is playing Mario Party on the Nintendo 64. I have very fond memories of my cousins, brothers and I just playing as kids. ... On the other hand, going back to how much I love to learn, my mom would buy me workbooks from the store. I absolutely love doing workbooks.”

What would you tell your younger self?

“I think I would tell younger Elaine to nurture all aspects of her life. I think school is super important, and I definitely learned that very young, but I think giving myself time to also enjoy and have fun is very important.”

Published in Volume 78, Number 08 of The Uniter (November 2, 2023)

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