Weihua Li Focuses on Teaching and Research While at Columbia

weihua li
Math takes planning, effort, and inspiration


It started in middle school. That’s when Associate Chair and Associate Professor Weihua Li realized mathematics came easy and naturally to her. In high school, after being asked to be a peer tutor by her math teacher, Li realized she enjoyed teaching and it was the career path she wanted to follow.

Li joined Columbia College Chicago in fall 2009 right after she received her Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire. She says, “I love teaching and Columbia provides me a great opportunity to focus on teaching.” At Columbia, Li has taught different math courses from the lowest to highest level, such as Basic Math Skills, College Math, Calculus sequence, Differential Equations, and more.

 “Math is an art,” said Li.  “There is beauty in it. When in my research I figured out a problem to work on and finally solved it and carefully wrote the proof, the whole process is the same as if you painted a beautiful picture or wrote a symphony or a poem. It takes planning, effort, and inspiration.” Another important aspect of learning mathematics for Li is that it forces you to learn to organize the information you are given and to logically reason to solve a problem. This can help people in their careers and their lives no matter what their major is, but especially with majors like Audio Arts and Acoustics and Interactive Arts and Media where math is prominent. 

“Math is creative. No two problems are the same, when students solve mathematical problems, they have to be creative. Just memorizing a few rules is never enough.”

When artists approach their next masterpiece, they think about how to create a painting that fully represents their interpretation of a subject and also projects the emotion or statement they are trying to deliver. This is how Li approaches teaching. When she sees her students struggling with some material, it reminds her of how she struggled with some subjects while at school, with math while being a math major/graduate, and while she was doing her research. Of helping others Li says, “I always try my best to help my students to do math to the best of their ability, as my professors and thesis advisors did to me.”

In addition to teaching, Columbia encourages and supports faculty research, which is a perfect combination for Li. Thanks to the support of several Faculty Development Grants she received from Columbia, Li was able to go to the University of New Hampshire to collaborate with their research group, which resulted in several publications.

Li’s research area is operator algebra, a pure mathematics area. Continuing to complete research even as she teaches helps Li relate to her students as they too face challenges of producing new work. As Li says, “I can feel students’ pain when they struggle, because I am struggling too.”