A Math Guru for Latinx Majors: Paty Millán

Patricia Millán
Patricia Millán

Patricia Millán (B.S., Mathematics and Statistics, '09)

Patricia Millán was the first in her family to graduate from college. She earned a B.S. in mathematics and statistics from UC Davis in 2009 and a M.S. in statistics from CSU East Bay in 2011. She is currently senior data scientist for Nielsen, leading their Mobile Performance Product in San Francisco. Millán was born in Livingston, in California's Central Valley, the child of immigrants from the state of Michoacán, Mexico.

Why did you decide to major in math?

I fell in love with math at a very young age. I was fascinated with puzzles and problem solving. I loved that with a small amount of puzzle pieces you could already see the whole picture. I think it is very similar to finding insights from a sample of data, and there is definitely an art to discovering those patterns.

Through a Mentorship for Undergraduate Research Participants in the Physical Sciences (MURPPS) at UC Davis, I realized how practical and fun math can be when applied to real world problems. I was introduced to the field of statistics through MURPPS’ seminar series. I then decided to double major in mathematics and statistics and pursue graduate school in statistics.

What was your favorite class at UC Davis?

I loved the courses that incorporated practical assignments, not just homework and exams, like statistical computing (STA 141). In that class, every two weeks we had a new programming project and had to present a report. My favorite project was to scrape online data during the Obama election. I could see who was leading which states and what counties were driving the votes. These projects not only helped me to connect the dots on how to apply statistical methods to derive insights, but also gave me the experience to land summer internships and full time position.  

What did you enjoy about UC Davis life?

I joined the Chicano and Latino Engineers and Scientists Society (CALESS).

I have to give CALESS a lot of credit for my success in surviving my years at UC Davis. CALESS truly became my second family, my home away from home. We were all first generation Latino students who were driven to succeed, but also came from a similar background and knew the struggle of having to figure everything out on our own. When I came to UC Davis, I didn't even know what an internship was, I didn't know what networking meant, but CALESS provided the resources and the alumni network for me to learn how to get my foot in the door. By the time I graduated from Davis, I had interned at three companies, had experience presenting my research at conferences, got accepted into graduate school and had a full-time job lined up right after my master’s degree.

Who were your favorite professors at UC Davis?

Unfortunately I didn't have a Latino Professor at Davis to look up to, that would’ve been great. Nonetheless, I had amazingly talented professors who became my mentors and friends. They really cared about developing their students into talented STEM professionals. Professors Rick West and Rod Cole, for example, taught me how to pick myself up when things don’t go as planned and to never limit myself or doubt my capabilities. Professor Rahman Azari pushed me to double major, and Professor Duncan Temple Lang made it clear to me that a valuable statistician needed to learn how to code.

Did your family help you prepare for college?

I was fortunate that my parents were extremely supportive of me going to college. Both of them didn’t have the opportunity to go to school and in their generation, it was uncommon for a Latina to get an education. My family knew little about the school system and college applications, but they did know how to work hard, not be afraid and fight for your dreams.

At an early age my Dad put me in karate, baseball, and soccer. This taught me how to navigate male-dominated environments. “You can kick butt, just like they can”, my dad would say. "You can do everything they can and do it even better".

My Mom was also instrumental in my academic success. During graduate school, I was offered a summer internship in Washington, D.C. I almost didn’t take it. I was scared this would led to a permanent position thousands of miles away from home and my family. But my mom said something I will never forget. She told me, “I can’t believe that the thought of not taking this amazing opportunity is even crossing your mind. You have to break the traditional Latina mold. The one that misses out on all these opportunities, so she can stay close to her family. Do it for all your cousins and nieces who look up to you, for your mother who never had these opportunities and most importantly for yourself because you deserve it. You are going to take it!”

Where do you see yourself in the future?

I'm a senior data scientist at Nielsen, a market research company. I support a global product called Nielsen Mobile Performance, and I'm responsible for the statistical methodology of the overall product. My plan is to continue working with data products for now. In five years I see myself leading a team of data scientists. Long term goal, I aspire to be a Chief Data Officer.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My A.P. calculus teacher, Mr. Gonzales, would always say, “Math is beautiful!” He inspired me because he grew up in my neighborhood, was the first generation in his family to go to college and was also a child of immigrant parents. He truly dedicated his time to his students by helping us prepare for our A.P. calculus exam, studying on the weekends, coming in an hour before school started and staying an hour after school. He believed in us. He called us the “Calculus Warriors,” because if we could conquer calculus, we could conquer anything. He was truly my first mentor. He not only helped me plan out what classes I needed to get accepted in UC Davis, but shared his stories of success, failures and regrets.