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We asked mathematics professor E. Cabral Balreira a few questions to get to know him better.
by Susie P. Gonzalez
Math professor E. Cabral Balreira’s favorite things involve family, bright colors, the number 17, corny math jokes, and the possibility of having a math theorem named after him. Keep reading to learn more.
How do you motivate your students?
I always hear, “I am not good at math.” But math is not what you think you learned in high school. Math is much more than arithmetic or calculus. It is an entire way of thinking and solving problems creatively. Most of us can do math; we just don’t know we are doing it. It is not easy, not even for me, but to be good at anything takes time and work.
What are some of your pre-class rituals?
I always prepare my lecture notes the night before. Before class, I make a quick outline of the lecture to make sure I have the order correct. Before going to class, I first get some coffee at the university club in Chapman. Then, when I walk in the classroom, I always say, “Good morning, it is 9:30, time to start.”
How did you get involved in the study of mathematics?
I did well in my classes in school, and one teacher asked me if I wanted to participate in Math Olympiad competitions. These were different than any math problems I had ever seen. They were very challenging and had little to no computations. I kept working on them and decided then and there that I wanted to have a theorem named after me.
What is your favorite aspect of teaching? Least favorite? Why?
Favorite: Being able to tell corny math jokes to a captive audience.
Least: Grading. It often happens without an actual interaction. Most grading will focus on the negative, and it is not a pleasant experience for the student to receive that feedback. Once they read the feedback, they rarely come by and discuss it.
Can you explain the Oracle method and how you involve students in this area of academic studies?
The Oracle method is a ranking algorithm for pair comparisons. That is, a method to tell who is the better team after a series of games, even when two teams have not played each other. We involve our students in the Oracle method through the Sports Technology and Analytics at Trinity (STAT) seminar where they learn about the mathematics behind the Oracle, learn how to make predictions, and develop their own methods. The STAT seminar is also involved in the inaugural Trinity vs. the Oracle Challenge. If any Trinity students or alumni did not get the chance to participate this year, they should keep an eye out for announcements and participate next year.
Who inspires you? Why?
My family. Doing academic work, one focuses on problems and despite having success, one is always faced with the pressure of how little one knows. It can be simply depressing at times. Growing up in Brazil, my mom and dad had a factory and a clothing store. It was very hard work with the ups and downs from the Brazilian economy. My parents always made sure the family was the most important thing in life. They inspired me to overcome challenges, laugh, and enjoy life. Today, I am blessed that my wife inspires me with the same hard work, encouragement, and happiness for life.
Favorite color? Why?
Bright, that is, “insert color” bright. I like bright colors because, like coffee, they stimulate the senses.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt? Why?
A Formula One pit crew member. I would love to be able to always be around the pinnacle of racing without having to be in the car.
What's your favorite expression? Least favorite expression? Why?
Most favorite: The “Thumbs up”. It is a quick and easy way to show that you are in a good mood.
Least favorite: “I’m busy.” We are all busy; if we are not busy, then we should be.
If you were reincarnated as some other plant or animal, what would it be and why?
Plant: Maple Syrup Tree. Not many people know this, but maple syrup is about one of the best things ever discovered.
Animal: Cat, they seem to have it all figured out.
Favorite sports team? Why?
Green Bay Packers. The concept of a publicly owned team makes me know they are involved in the community, and I am not cheering for one man or woman to profit, but for a whole community.
What is your favorite word? Your least favorite word? Why?
As a mathematician, I have a favorite number which can be written as a word: Seventeen. It is a prime, a constructible regular polygon, and the shared birthday between Michael Jordan and me.
My least favorite number is ninety-one, it looks and smells like a prime but it is not.
Where would you like to retire?
I would move to the island of Madeira, a Portuguese island off the northwest coast of Africa. In the past few years, I had the chance to visit Madeira, and it is simply amazing.