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UD doctoral candidate Joseph Nakao is passionate about teaching as well as his advocacy work.
Delaware doctoral candidate Joseph Nakao is the first to recognize that
his research is difficult to comprehend. An applied mathematics scholar,
he is working to develop efficient and robust algorithms for solving
partial differential equations, with an emphasis on applications in
plasma physics. For the last two summers, he has worked at the Air Force
Research Laboratory in California, collaborating with aerospace
engineers. Nakao is passionate about his research and teaching
responsibilities at UD and equally passionate about his advocacy work,
which focuses on LGBTQ+ inclusivity in math departments and across
The answers aren’t readily apparent when Nakao is developing
algorithms. But when it comes to inclusivity, he said he believes the
solution is pretty clear. “It all comes down to empathy,” he said.
“Above all else, creating any sense of inclusivity requires immense
empathy and thoughtfulness,” Nakao said. “Ask yourself: ‘How might my
choice of words hurt someone? Am I making any inherent assumptions in my
language and actions?’
“Thoughtfulness goes beyond a basic willingness to listen; it
includes a willingness to adopt a non-heteronormative perspective.
Personally, I believe inclusivity boils down to whether or not a student
is heard and included.”
In 2021, Nakao co-founded UD’s first-ever Queer and Trans Graduate
Student Union. He also is on the board of directors for Spectra, a
national association for LGBTQ+ mathematicians and is the first student
to sit on the board. In early December 2022, he was recognized with the
2022 Graduate Student Excellence in Scholarly Community Engagement Award
by UD’s Faculty Senate and the Committee on Student and Faculty Honors.
He was one of two graduate students to receive this distinction.
“I am proud to be a gay mathematician,” said Nakao. He has high
praise for the welcoming and inclusive environment he has found in UD’s
mathematics department but, nonetheless, noted that “it’s hard to be
queer in Newark.” He helped create the Queer and Trans Graduate Student
Union so that members “would know that they are not alone.” The
organization has worked to raise awareness of mental health support for
On the national level, Nakao is supporting Spectra’s efforts to
ensure that national conferences are held in locations that are
welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community and that academic journals adopt
trans-inclusive naming policies, in which they refer to a transgender or
non-binary person by their current name. He has written on inclusivity
for the Mathematical Association of America and was the keynote
presenter at a fall conference held virtually by the Fields Institute
for Research in Mathematical Sciences.
“Joseph has developed into a skilled teacher who always goes above
and beyond for his students, and he has already co-authored a paper that
appeared in one of the top journals in his area,” said Mark Gockenbach,
chair of UD’s Department of Mathematical Sciences. “He has also been
active in departmental service to an unusual degree. I believe that he
has a bright future as a faculty member.”
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Article by Margo McDonough, photo courtesy of Joseph Nakao
Published January 06, 2023