Only Do It If You Love It: Dr. Hortensia Soto-Johnson
2005 AWM Essay Contest: College Level Honorable Mention
By Maggie Aschenbrenner
Dr. Hortensia Soto-Johnson has a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the University of Northern Colorado, where she is currently a professor. She has a Masters in Mathematics from the University of Arizona, a Masters in Mathematics Education from Chadron State College, and an Undergraduate degree in Mathematics from Chadron State College, a small teacher college in Nebraska.
Dr. Soto is married and has a son named Miguel. She was born in Mexico but her parents moved to the United States when she was one year old. She only speaks to her son in Spanish because she believes that it is very important for him to know his Hispanic heritage. In Dr. Soto’s spare time she enjoys practicing yoga, meditating, baking, and spending time with her family.
Looking at where Dr. Soto started her life and the many challenges she faced along the journey of her life, she has created an amazing road of success for herself. First, Dr. Soto was born in Mexico to very traditional Mexican parents who have a third grade education. When they moved to the United States, they lived on a farm in Nebraska where she was raised. Every day was full of hard farm work. This became her motivation to study because “studying was easier than working on the farm.” Dr. Soto decided at a very young age that she wanted a better life for herself and began to focus on her education. But because her parents are so traditional, her mother was completely against Dr. Soto seeking out an education for herself. Her mother believed that women don’t need an education: women wait for a man to marry and then continue to live at home as a housewife. Getting a chance to go to college was a tremendous struggle because her hardest road block was convincing her mother it was okay for a woman to get an education. Her mother was not the only challenge Dr. Soto faced through her educational journey. The second challenge was a cultural and language barrier. A third challenge was financing her extensive education because Dr. Soto came from a family of nine children. By working hard an applying herself to every aspect of her schooling, she financed her education from scholarships.
Dr. Soto has succeeded in overcoming every barrier she has faced so far in her life. She feels that this success helps her contribute more to her students, especially those facing challenges as they try to get an education. Dr. Soto believes success is not based on how smart you are or how much your parents know, but how much you are willing to work due to your love, passion and commitment. Her best advice to future mathematicians is “only do it if you love it!” She strongly believes that if you truly are passionate for math, you will put forth the time and energy required to struggle and be successful. There is a drive within when you are truly committed to learning, and yes, you even enjoy struggling to reach your goals.
One of Dr. Soto’s favorite aspects of teaching is when she witnesses struggling students finally understand a concept and have their “ah-ha” moment. She also enjoys getting to know all of her students, which usually kick-starts her motherly instincts. Dr. Soto takes her students under her wing, finding them jobs or internships, getting them involved in programs and activities, and encouraging them to think about going to graduate school.
Another side of teaching Dr. Soto feels it is important is being a role model, especially for women. As a role model, she shows her students that it is possible to balance a career and a family without feeling like you are neglecting either. This is particularly important for female students because “male students don’t have to think about that” due to the bias of our society today.
The most influential of Dr. Soto’s inspirations to become a math professor was one of her female math professors in graduate school. Not only was this woman entirely inspiring and encouraging, but Dr. Soto related to her because she was also Hispanic. She wants to be a similar inspiration for her students.
Finally, she describes her job as a professor as working with students, providing service, and working on scholarly activities. By working with students, she provides her knowledge and service to help them succeed if they are willing to work hard. Dr. Soto is involved with the Mathematical Association of America, ACT, and providing service to the community. Her scholarship can be seen through her publications in mathematics education.
Dr. Soto has proved that it doesn’t matter where you come from, how smart your family is, or how many hurdles you have to jump. The only thing that determines your success is the amount of work you decide to do when you are passionate about something in your life. She is an inspiration to students through her service to them and by the example of her own life. Female students can especially appreciate how Dr. Soto balances her full time career and a family to fulfill her goals. She shows that there is no need to neglect any dream to make another come true. Truly, Dr. Soto’s words to live by are “only do it if you love it.”
About the student:
I am a student at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, CO. I am pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics with an emphasis in Secondary Education. Currently I am observing and student teaching at Roosevelt High School in Johnstown, CO. For the 2006 spring semester, I will be studying abroad at St. Patrick’s College, a small education college in Dublin, Ireland. Math has been one of my strengths throughout my educational career. I feel that the best way to use my strength in math is through teaching.