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Luis A. Leyva

Assistant Professor, Mathematics Education, Department of Teaching and Learning


Leyva’s research rests at the intersections of mathematics education, gender studies, and higher education. It is motivated by issues of underrepresentation and social oppression in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) that have largely been explored in terms of sex or race exclusively. His research uses intersectionality, a theoretical perspective and methodology from Black feminist thought that attends to forms of oppression and privilege that marginalized individuals uniquely experience at different intersections of their social identities. More specifically, Leyva’s scholarship foregrounds the voices and lived experiences of marginalized undergraduate students to understand their strategies in navigating mathematics as a socially exclusionary space as well as developing positive academic identities at intersections of their gender, race, sexuality, and other identities.

Leyva examines marginalized students’ STEM educational experiences in two ways. First, he uses narrative analysis to explore how students make meaning of their experiences in building identities shaped by discourses of academic (or mathematical) ability and STEM higher education. Second, conceptualizing identity as developed across time and place, he adopts ethnographic methods to detail institutional and interpersonal influences in undergraduate mathematics classrooms and support programs that shape students’ identities and STEM educational experiences. Such analyses aim to catalyze change in STEM as a white, heteronormatively gendered space and thus broaden opportunities to meet the unique academic and social needs of various marginalized student populations.

Current Projects


Challenging, Operationalizing, and Understanding Racialized and Gendered Events (COURAGE) in Undergraduate Mathematics. Funded by the National Science Foundation. Lead Principal Investigator (Collaborative research with Rutgers University)

In the United States, historically marginalized groups, including women, African Americans, and Latin@s, are vastly underrepresented in the STEM workforce. There is little research on the relationship between undergraduate mathematics instruction and the retention and achievement of historically underrepresented groups in STEM. This three-year project addresses this needed area of research by using a mixed-methods design to begin finding answers to the following questions: What specific patterns of peer and instructor interactions contribute to or reinforce a culture of mathematics learning shaped by messages of innate ability and values of individual competition? Why does this quality of instruction have a larger negative impact on women and students of color? What, specifically, makes this instruction inadequate in meeting the academic and social needs of underrepresented groups in mathematics? Do instructors recognize these actions as contributing to this underrepresentation in mathematics?

To answer these questions, the project uses observational study and stimulus-recall interviews to identify specific events in pre-calculus and calculus classrooms that women and students of color find potentially marginalizing, and investigate the perceptions of these events from the vantage points of undergraduate mathematics instructors as well as students who are adequately represented and underrepresented in STEM. This is followed by quantitative studies using focus group interviews and surveys to assess the generalizability of these findings with a national sample of undergraduate students and mathematics course instructors. Finally, professional development materials are designed and then piloted with instructors that intend to create more equitable learning environments in undergraduate mathematics classrooms. The goal of this project is to contribute to creating more equitable mathematics learning environments at the undergraduate level and increasing the number of STEM majors to meet the demands of the national workforce. A critical outcome of this work will be a collection of materials including a synthesis of typical events in undergraduate mathematics classrooms that marginalize students, various students' documented perceptions of classroom events, and recommended instructional practices for more equitably responding to their occurrences that can be shared widely to the benefit of the broader STEM education community.

Completed Projects

A Situated, Intersectional Analysis of Racialized and Gendered Mathematics Experiences among Successful Latin@s in Mathematics-Intensive Majors. Writing funded by the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation. Principal Investigator.

This one-year phenomenological study used intersectionality theory to examine Latin@ women’s and Latin@ men’s mathematics success as engineering students at a large, predominantly white four-year university. Drawing on my prior findings of college mathematics as a socially exclusionary experience, the study detailed five Latin@ engineering students’ strategies in negotiating their academic success with their racial, gender, and other social identities across different spaces including mathematics classrooms, home, peer networks, and the university. This study consisted of semi-structured interviews, a focus group, and monthly observations in college mathematics classrooms. A three-tiered analytical framework was used to look across the institutional, interpersonal, and ideological influences on the Latin@ college engineering students’ mathematics success. Findings from this study not only addressed the research gap on qualitatively exploring Latin@s’ success in postsecondary STEM education, but also informed ways in which institutions can better support Latin@ engineering students in navigating academic spaces including college mathematics.

Multidimensional Mathematical Learners: Examining Race/Gender Positionalities in Mathematics. Principal Investigator.

Intersectionality remains to be adopted with a conceptualization of gender as socially constructed in mathematics education research to capture the dynamic interplay of race, gender, and other social identities that shapes the variation in marginalized student groups’ mathematics achievement and participation. Addressing the need for such intersectional analyses, this project examined the construction of mathematics identities among 18 students underrepresented and adequately represented in STEM during their first year of pursuing mathematics-intensive majors at a large, predominantly White university. Using mathematics autobiographies, interviews, focus groups, and a survey, the project analyzed institutional, interpersonal, and ideological influences on the students’ positionalities (defined as socially-influenced participation and self-perceptions) in mathematics to address the following questions: What are the dominant discourses of mathematical ability and STEM higher education raised in the first-year college students’ reflections on their mathematics experiences? To what extent did they encounter these discourses in classrooms and other institutional structures as well as interpersonal relationships during high school and in college? What strategies did they employ in making meaning of their experiences and navigating these discourses at intersections of their gender, race, and other identities? This project aims to provide more nuanced insights into the socially exclusionary culture of mathematics and its influence on the K-16 classroom experience as well as marginalized students’ strategies in negotiating discourses to co-construct positive mathematics and social identities. Findings are intended to inform more equitable educational practices in K-16 mathematics and future development of STEM support programs responsive to marginalized students’ academic and social needs.

Brief Biography

Leyva received a B.A. in mathematics and Ed.M. in mathematics education from Rutgers University. He became certified as a K-12 mathematics teacher in New Jersey and was recognized as a recipient of the 2011 Distinguished Student Teacher of Year Award by the New Jersey Department of Education. In addition to his teacher training, Leyva holds over six years of professional experience in higher education initiatives funded by the National Science Foundation and U.S. Department of Education, including living-learning communities and summer bridge programs, designed to increase STEM retention and success among students underrepresented in terms of gender and race. He received a Ph.D. degree in mathematics education with a graduate certification in women’s and gender studies from Rutgers University. Leyva was distinguished as a 2015 Dissertation Fellow by the National Academy of Education and Spencer Foundation as well as received the 2016 Excellence in Teaching by a Graduate Student Award from Rutgers University.

In February 2018, Luis Leyva received the 2018 Early Career Publication Award of the Special Interest Group on Research in Mathematics Education of AERA for his manuscript, "Unpacking the Male Superiority Myth and Masculinization of Mathematics at the Intersections: A Review of Research on Gender in Mathematics Education," published in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education (link below).

Representative Publications

(Please e-mail Dr. Leyva directly for copies of publications)

Refereed Articles
Refereed Conference Proceedings
  • Leyva, L. A. (in press). The counter-storytelling of Latinx men’s co-constructions of masculinities and undergraduate mathematical success. To appear in Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conference on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, San Diego, CA.
  • Adiredja, A. P., Leyva, L. A., & Mendoza, J. (in press). Impacts of peer mentorship in a calculus workshop on the mentors’ identities and academic experiences in undergraduate STEM. To appear in Proceedings of the 20th Annual Conference on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education, San Diego, CA.
  • Walshaw, M., Chronaki, A., Leyva, L. A., Stinson, D., Nolan, K., & Mendick, H. (2017). Beyond the box: Rethinking gender in mathematics education. In A. Chronaki (Ed.), Mathematics education and life at times of crisis: Proceedings of the Ninth International Mathematics Education and Society Conference (pp. 184-188). Volos, Greece.
Media Coverage of Research

Courses Taught

  • MTED 3250: Teaching Mathematics in Elementary Schools (Undergraduate F2016, SPR2017)
  • EDUC 6040: Analysis of Teaching (Graduate F2016)
  • EDUC 8040: Diversity & Equity in Education (Graduate F2017)
  • EDUC 9700: Research Groups: Identities across Educational Contexts (Graduate F2016, SPR2017)
  • WGS (Women’s & Gender Studies) 3850: Intersectionality in STEM Higher Education (Undergraduate F2016)