Mathematician in Motion

For as long as he can remember, David Ignacio Fager has adored mathematics. In high school, he lived for Mu Alpha Theta competitions and skipped ahead in math textbooks the way impatient readers sometimes peek at the last page of a mystery novel.

Then came freshman year of college, and Caltech’s social science core introduced him to a new love: economics.

Game theory. Matching markets. Econometrics. The Miami native couldn’t get enough. Happily, he was able to marry his two passions.

“Economics is very mathy, especially at Caltech,” says Fager, who will graduate in 2020 with a double major in both disciplines.

His most recent summer research project tackled a theoretical problem in harmonic analysis. The mathematical subfield, which focuses on overlapping waves, has applications in signal processing, medical imaging, and quantum mechanics. For his 2018 Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), Fager thoroughly vetted a statistical model developed by his mentor, Caltech economist Bob Sherman.

Beyond Classroom and Lab

Math and economics are only two enthusiasms in Fager’s growing repertoire. Over three years at Caltech, he has embraced new challenges without pressure to abandon the old.

For example, he continues to run cross-country and track, two passions carried forward from high school. At Caltech, Fager trains year-round and competes on both NCAA teams. That means daily two-hour runs, conditioning, and all-day Saturday meets. From September to mid-May, the Beavers command 20 hours of his week.David Fager running

“Running makes me really happy,” says the endurance athlete, who favors the varied terrain of 8 km cross country courses and 5 km track races.

Chess is another longstanding pursuit. He has played since first grade and keeps his hand in the game through the Caltech Chess Club. He participates in friendly online matches and occasional live tournaments, although these days Fager doesn’t expect to win.

“I was the best in my high school,” he says. “Here, I’m below average, but I enjoy getting beat by really good players,” he adds, with a laugh.

Alongside chess, a new pastime has sparked Fager’s interest. He is a founding member and current president of the Caltech Pool Club. He got the idea for a club after noticing pool tables in nearly every house. Curious to learn, Fager went house by house and asked the best players to teach him.

Another new passion is peer advocacy.

When freshmen at Ruddock House confide their worries about making grades or not making friends, their grief over a broken romance or a death in the family, Fager listens sympathetically and offers his best counsel.

“Mentoring  younger students, giving back to my house, is a way I try to help others,” says Fager, who completed 60 hours of training through two credited courses in counseling to become a peer advocate. He was inspired by Gene Vaughan (BS ’18), an upperclassman who listened to Fager’s own freshman anxieties. Now a PhD student in biology at University of Texas, El Paso, Vaughan remains a close friend.

Last but not least, Fager has kept faith with his roots. The child of a Cuban immigrant mother and an American-born father, he graduated from a high school that is 90 percent Latino. Through the Caltech Latino Association of Students in Engineering and Science, he gets to chat with Spanish-speaking peers, faculty members, custodians, groundskeepers, and cafeteria workers in his mother’s tongue.

“I love to show Latino students that there’s a place for us here.”
- David Fager

Fager also worked as a math teaching assistant with Caltech’s Freshman Summer Research Institute. The five-week orientation and academic support program serves incoming students from underrepresented backgrounds.

“I love to show Latino students that there’s a place for us here,” he says.

Looking Ahead and Giving Back

Fager has certainly found his place at Caltech. But he knows that many alumni cleared the path that gives him the freedom to fully enjoy all the Institute has to offer.

Philanthropy has made it possible for Fager to pursue a double major, train and compete in NCAA athletics, serve as a volunteer peer advocate, and lead and participate in social clubs and service groups.

“I wouldn’t be able to do all of this if I had to work,” he says.

Fager’s multi-faceted Caltech experience offers a prime example of why scholarship support is a top priority of Break Through: The Caltech Campaign. Thanks to a Charles E. and Doris Jean White Scholarship, a generous Caltech financial aid package, and outside scholarships from the Association of Cuban-American Engineers and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Fager expects to graduate debt free.

In the fall, he plans to apply to doctoral programs in economics. He isn’t sure what the future holds: academia, a think-tank, the financial sector?

One thing is certain, though. “I want to give back to Caltech when I have the means to do so,” Fager says. The hard part will be deciding which part of campus to support.

 


Undergraduate scholarships are a top funding priority for Break Through: The Caltech Campaign. To learn how you can support undergraduates at Caltech, please contact Megan MacDonald, development officer for academic divisions and regions, at (626) 395-8802 or mmacdonald@caltech.edu.

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