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The Tango, Bollywood—and a Career in Math

BMCC student Yin Pak Cheng, and recent BMCC alum Manya Patel.
BMCC student Yin Pak Cheng, and recent BMCC alum Manya Patel.
April 19, 2011

BMCC student Yin Pak Cheng, and recent BMCC alum Manya Patel were just awarded $1,000 each by the New York State Mathematics Association of Two-Year Colleges (NYSMATYC).

Cheng won the NYSMATYC Past President’s Scholarship for Excellence in Mathematics, and Patel won the NYSMATYC Helen Siner Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Mathematics.

Thinking on his feet

“Since he learns mostly through understanding, rather than raw memorization, he is able to ‘think on his feet’,” says Cheng’s Calculus III professor Marcos Zyman. “He has the unusual skill of analyzing the materials that he learns by producing interesting examples and counterexamples.”  

Cheng, who enjoys playing video games and exploring New York City festivals, grew up in Hong Kong.  He moved to Brooklyn at 16, and immediately enrolled in evening classes at BMCC, “because that was all that was left.”

In his Honors Project with math professor Margaret Dean, Cheng is examining the Butterfly Effect, a part of chaos theory first applied to weather forecasting. “It looks at a very small change in an initial condition,” he says, “which results in a huge change further down the chain of events.”

Cheng is a former president and now secretary of Phi Theta Kappa at BMCC, and just returned from the organization’s convention in Seattle.

“That was my first trip outside New York City by myself,” he says. “It was a blast. There were 3,556 attendees from colleges all over the U.S.”  While there, he enjoyed conference events including ballroom dancing. “I used to be in the dance club at BMCC,” he says. “I really like the Tango.”

His interests also include playing the piano, learning languages—“I took three semesters of Spanish, and now I’m taking French”—and he is continuing to explore chaos theory, through a STEM project mentored by BMCC math professor Jorge Maciel.  

Bollywood’s starring statistician

Manya Patel grew up in England, moved to South India at age 9, and starred in over 40 Bollywood films before moving to New York.  

“I started modeling saris at age 14,” she says. “When my father—he was a cardiologist—passed away suddenly of a heart attack, the family didn’t want to take us in—my mother, my sister and I. So I dropped out of school, and went to work.”

A movie director saw one of teenage Manya’s billboards, and the rest is cinematic history. She eventually married an American and moved to New York, earning her GED through BMCC’s Center for Continuing Education and Workforce Development, then enrolling in BMCC as a math major.

She met math professor Alla Morgulis at orientation. “She was basically like a mother to me,” says Patel, who completed four STEM projects with Morgulis as her mentor; one in economics, two in physics, and one on fractals, or irregular shapes often found in nature, such as in snowflakes.

Professor Zyman was Patel’s Honors advisor, for a project extending her work with fractals.

“Manya asked questions that went beyond the materials covered in lessons,” he says. “She often wondered about possible variations of assigned problems. She took the initiative to spend whatever time it took, to solve the most difficult problems I assigned.”

This semester, Patel enrolled in a dual degree program at Columbia University. Concurrent with earning a bachelor’s degree in math statistics—minoring in quantitative finance—she’s pursuing an MBA.

“I want to work as an investment banker, in mergers and acquisitions,” she says. “I’d like to work in the entertainment industry. Maybe even in Bollywood.”

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  • The NY State Mathematics Association of Two-Year Colleges (NYSMATYC), honors outstanding math students
  • Yin Pak Cheng and Manya Patel are BMCC’s most recent NYSMATYC winners
  • Cheng, from Hong Kong, and Patel, from India excel in math, as well as dancing and acting

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