Learning All The Way

A young mathematician eyeing a career in academia describes the influence of his mentors, including President Klawe.

Written by Sarah Barnes Photo by Shannon Cottrell

Share story

Mithra Karamchedu is only in his first year at Harvey Mudd College, but he’s been conducting research with two HMC computer scientists/mathematicians since his junior year in high school: his brother, Chai ’21 (CS/math), and President Maria Klawe. Chai began his graph theory research with Klawe in 2019. During remote learning the following year, knowing that Mithra was interested in math and computer science, Chai and Klawe saw an opportunity to involve him in their work, which they were doing virtually.

“Working with Maria was one of my favorite experiences during my time at Mudd,” says Chai. “I am incredibly grateful for her willingness to work collaboratively with me. As a young student, the opportunity to work with such an accomplished researcher is immensely validating. But most of all, working with Maria has just been incredibly fun!”

Mithra sees the collaboration similarly. “[Maria is] probably one of the most intellectually open and generous people I’ve ever met,” he says. “When I got started with this, I was just a high school student, and I didn’t really know my college plans. She still welcomed me into the project. I had done some science research before, but I’d never done math research with an esteemed mathematician like her. She gave me a lot of knowledge about how to actually go out and do the research process.”

These days, the three still meet weekly via Zoom, though their priorities have shifted a bit as Chai pursues a PhD in computer science at the University of Maryland and Klawe focuses on the final semester of her 17-year HMC presidency.

Mithra, on the other hand, is just getting started in his academic career. He has a pretty good idea of the direction he wants to take, thanks to the influence of mentors like Klawe and a favorite high school math teacher. “I’m pretty sure I want to do academia,” he says. “I’m very drawn toward theoretical computer science. The PhD path seems pretty exciting to me, and I love the idea of teaching.”

Working with President Klawe, Mithra Karamchedu says, “makes me want to spread my enthusiasm for math and CS to other people in the same way it spread from her to me.”

It was in high school that Mithra discovered his love of teaching when he participated in a program working with elementary school children. “It’s really rewarding, not just when you’re helping someone understand something, but when you’re so excited about something, you can really make other people excited. That enthusiasm is contagious, and I think the same thing applies for math, too,” he says. Working with Klawe, he says, “makes me want to spread my enthusiasm for math and CS to other people in the same way it spread from her to me.”

In fact, thinking about his collaboration with Maria reminds him of another great mentor, Fred Rogers, creator of the children’s TV show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. “On his show, Fred would often have experts, and he said, ‘the best teacher in the world is somebody who loves what he or she does and just loves it in front of you!’ If I could, I’d like to just emulate even a tiny piece of that in the way Maria does it.”

In addition to his sincerity and the visible joy he exhibits when talking about math and computer science, another of Mithra’s endearing qualities is his eagerness to learn from others.

“I just started college,” he says. “I’m still in that transition period of being a teenager and becoming more of an adult, and since I’m on the track of maybe pursuing academia, whatever people I encounter now—my professors, Maria, research collaborators—are going to have a huge influence on me. They are people I will have to learn a lot from, and I can’t imagine a better start to that than my work with Maria. Having the chance to work with her really meant a lot. I have a lot to thank Maria for.”

Continue Reading

All Articles