UCF mathematics Professor Eduardo Teixeira is one of only three professors in the U.S. to have won the International Mathematical Union’s prestigious Ramanujan prize, an award for mathematicians under 45 who did outstanding work in a developing country, according to their website.
Just before coming to UCF, fall 2017, Teixeira received this award for his research and work at the Federal University of Ceara in his home country of Brazil. Teixeira helped the math department at the University of Ceara achieve excellence in research by providing incentives to professors to conduct quality research. Afterward, the department was able to publish in respected journals.
“Anything that I set my mind to do I’m always committed with the highest level of excellence,” Teixeira said. “I would never accept to do a mediocre job, it would be against my principles.”
But his award-winning career in math almost never happened.
Like many UCF students Teixeira struggled with finding the right major in college. He loved math but didn’t think majoring in mathematics would be something his family would like him to do – since mathematicians didn’t get paid well.
So, Teixeira first double majored in engineering and computer science. But he started feeling sick and depressed after his fifth semester at age 20.
“I was a victim of my own pre-judgement,” Teixeira said. “I thought that becoming a mathematician would impair me to succeed, and I proved I was wrong.”
All he needed was a prescription to pursue his passion.
That came after Teixeira’s mom got worried when he became depressed in college, and took him to a medical doctor, Teixeira said.
Being honest with his doctor would change his life.
Teixeira told his doctor about his “internal conflict” over wanting to be a mathematician – even though he worried he wouldn’t make enough money. The doctor advised him to pursue his passion.
That talk with his doctor, Teixeira said, gave him the confidence to tell his family and switch his major to math. Afterward, all the depression went away.
The Path to Prestige.
Though a first-generation college student, Teixeira comes from a talented family. His grandfather taught himself to play the violin, despite being poor and unable to get an education, Teixeira said. He said his father was also talented in math and used to ask him challenging theoretical questions that made him think bigger.
Teixeira’s brother Ricardo, went to the same college, Federal University of Ceara in Brazil, and shared the same room with him. He recalled how much Eduardo was committed to math. He said his brother would sometimes stay up all night reading his math book, even when he had classes in the morning.
“He wanted to be the best version of himself,” Ricardo Teixeira said.
When Eduardo Teixeria decided to come to the U.S. for his Ph.D. in mathematics in 2001, at the University of Texas at Austin, he specifically chose the award-winning professor Luis Caffarelli as his mentor. He wanted to be trained by one of the best in the field he was studying, Ricardo Teixeira said.
After completing his doctorate and working for a few years in the U.S., Eduardo Teixeira decided to return to Brazil in 2008 because he wanted to bring back his talents to his country, he said.
During the time he worked at the university in Brazil, Eduardo Teixeira published several research papers in his field of partial differential equations, winning awards and prizes for some of them. Most notably, he received the inaugural Mathematical Congress of the Americas prize in 2013, based on outstanding mathematical achievements, according to their website. The quality research that was published helped bring recognition and attention to the University of Ceara.
“In some sense I represented sort of a model, my personal experience shows that this pursuit of excellence becomes viral,” Eduardo Teixeira said.
Eduardo Teixeira also mentored students in Brazil. One of his students came to UCF.
Thialita Nascimento, decided to come to UCF for her doctorate in partial differential equations, after learning Eduardo Teixeira was teaching here. He mentored Nascimento in her undergraduate math program, helping her obtain a scholarship for students entering the scientific field.
She said Eduardo Teixeira showed her how he believed in her potential, which helped motivate her.
“We’re all proud of him,” Nascimento said. He’s a great teacher, a great researcher and he inspired others. He really showed us the beauty of mathematics.”
Nascimento wrote her master’s thesis based on one of Eduardo Teixeira’s papers. Nascimento said she believes all the doctoral students he mentored went on to be very successful.
Coming to UCF.
After working for nine years in Brazil, Teixeira said he felt there was no room for more improvement and his job was no longer challenging. He decided to come back to the U.S. and found a great opportunity at UCF.
“I just fell in love with the opportunities I will have here,” Teixeira said. “I feel and I see that UCF will be for me the best place to be at, because it’s not quite yet a really top institution, but I truly believe this will be the next strategic goal for UCF.”
At UCF he wants to make sure his students get the very best teaching quality possible, comparable to the top universities like Princeton, Caltech, Harvard or MIT, Teixeira said.
In pursuing excellence in his research and work, it will help bring visibility to UCF which will bring prestige and then lead to funding and resources, Teixeira said. He said it’s a gradual process, but once you start on this path it can’t be stopped.
On the wall behind his desk, Teixeira proudly hangs his tag from the International Congress of Mathematicians conference in Brazil. The largest mathematical conference in the world, held every 4 years mostly in Europe and Asia.
He had a leading role in bringing this conference to Brazil last August, the first time it was held in the southern hemisphere, which also helped bring visibility to UCF in the mathematical world, he said.
Teixeira speaks passionately about wanting to help UCF become a top-level university.
“I truly believe that the next strategic step for UCF is to really put effort and resources to pursue excellence,” Teixeira said. “This is what I’ve done for my life. I’m here because of that. This has always been my true commitment. I very much hope I’ll be able to help UCF in this endeavor.”
Teixeria’s teaching philosophy at UCF reflects his love for math and family
Teixeira said he is very committed to teaching. This semester he is teaching calculus I to over 400 students. It’s the fault of mathematicians that some students don’t like math, he said.
“Mathematics is beautiful,” Teixeira said. “It’s like an art, an extra sense that humankind has. There [should be] no such a thing as someone saying ‘I hate math.’ It’s like sight, no one says I hate seeing. It would be more or less the same outrageous phrase.”
At UCF Teixeira is working on a “major calculus redesign project” to improve the quality of the program and combat the high drop/fail/withdraw rate. He said the results have been very good so far.
On his desk he has a picture of his three kids, two sons Arthur 5, Anthony 2 and an 11-year-old daughter Amanda.
“On top of all the professional incentives to make UCF better, I also have this personal thing that I’m preparing UCF for my daughter,” Eduardo Teixeira said. “So, when she goes to college … the education that she will get from UCF will be as good as any top institution in the U.S., and this is my dream.”
Teixeira said he likes to spend his leisure time playing with his kids, but he’s always thinking about his theorems and calculating problems in his head. Sometimes it may lead him to something important.
“One of the most acclaimed theorems that I proved, the idea came to me when I was playing with my daughter on the beach in Fortaleza [Brazil],” Teixeira said. “It is up to now the most striking insight that I was able to produce.”
His paper got accepted for publication on the day his dad died. He dedicated it to the memory of his father.