In spite of her challenging past in the middle of the poverty and the violence of South Central Los Angeles, Olympia LePoint is the first person to go to college in her family. Presently, she is an inspiring figure for a lot of people, including her students at Pasadena City College.
LePoint earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree and applied for mathematics at California State University Northridge. Originally Carl Main, the dean of the math department, asked her to come teach at PCC and as soon as she got here, she loved the campus.
“I’m very thankful because Carrie Starbird is an excellent dean of the math department, and it is a pleasure for me to teach on campus with brilliant fellow instructors and professors,” LePoint said.
Irony of fate, LePoint didn’t think that she was going to be a math major when she started college. LePoint applied at University of Southern California (USC) in aerospace engineering, but she was denied entrance. She laughs about it now, because going to California State University in Northridge was the best decision she ever made.
“The support and the education that I got there, together with the training to solve really tough math problems were unbelievably valuable,” LePoint said. “I was still able to launch rockets later, which also involves a lot of math. The reason why I love mathematics is because it always shows us the truth, unlike psychology and literature, there is a truth and there is an answer. Our job is to use all the true logic to find it. For a person who came through such difficult times from physical abuse, sexual abuse and mental abuse growing up as a kid, mathematics was like my anchor, where I could always find the truth. I really loved that education gave me that opportunity.”
LePoint thinks that everything works out and that we don’t understand why or how, but it does. And those who really truly have and intend to make a difference in this world, all the things that do not go as planned will really work together in the end to our benefit. She talked about this concept a lot in her book, “Answers Unleashed: The Science of Unleashing Your Brain’s Power”.
“Chaos happens for a reason and I show mathematically that nothing is random, everything works together towards one of two outcomes, either something that’s gonna successfully help you grow, or something that’s going to keep you stalled and stuck,” LePoint said. “It all depends on our thinking and our decisions. I made a decision that I was going to be a young person in science when I applied at aerospace engineering at California State University Northridge at the age of 16.”
Lepoint graduated top 5 out of the 6,500 graduating class, and that was because she worked really hard and went to tutoring every day.
“I understood that if I wanted to change my life it was up to me to earn it and to do it,” LePoint said. “Everyone always wants a beautiful life, but the fact is we have to work for it no matter what. Even if you have a ton of money, you have to learn to invest it, so that you don’t lose it all.”
Her first book is “Mathaphobia: How You Can Overcome Your Math Fears and Become a Rocket Scientist”. Before writing the book, it was just a workshop but there were so many people wanting to get information about it that she decided to write it down and it turned into her first book.
After she wrote the book, Ted-talk producers saw that she was an author, and asked her to share the information on stage, and that led her to her first major speaking engagement at TEDx PCC, here on campus. She spoke about how to reprogram our brain to overcome fears and solve problems.
The first book deals with solving problems in mathematics and it helps people from being six years old all the way through college; her second one, “Answers Unleashed: The Science of Unleashing Your Brain’s Power” helps people understand the power of their thoughts, and it was released in 2018. It was a great success and she gave another Ted talk at California State University Northridge about the science of applying mathematics. She went to school with her mom when her mother went back to school. Her mom always told her that the most important thing to do is to get an education since they were raised on welfare, they didn’t have much money and they lived in the middle of gang violence.
“My mother recognized the difficulties that she was facing financially providing for us because she didn’t have that ability to do more than keep a roof over our heads,” LePoint said. “So, she decided to go back to school for her Associates of Arts degree. She couldn’t afford daycare so she asked the teacher if she could bring me to class and the teacher said ‘yes’. I remember sitting in the back of her beginning algebra class and I remember seeing my mother’s face light up because she was finally understanding mathematics. That was the moment in which I realized that in the future, no matter what, I have got to do what these teachers are doing for my mother.”
As well as a vast public of followers that is inspired by our campus celebrity here at PCC, many people who took her workshops, read her books and attended her Ted talks think highly of her, including her colleague Mei Ling Cheng who is a fellow mathematician.
“Olympia LePoint has been working as adjunct faculty here at PCC for about 15 years,” Cheng said. “She’s a really good teacher, she’s taught statistics, calculus and all ranges of math courses. I know that she’s passionate about helping students overcome the fear of mathematics and the mystery of why math is so intimidating to some people. She is always exploring new topics in relationship with people and their success. She’s a wonderful lady.”
LePoint was also on “Impact theory” with Tom Beliew talking about her second book as well as making an appearance on PBS with Berry Kipering on “Between the Lines” to speak about her first book. She is currently still working on her third book. Students and co-workers are fascinated by this delightful teacher, author, and speaker, and there are even rumors about her being a PCC legend.
“I have known Olympia LePoint for about a year, maybe a year and a half,” said Louis Tripodes, who works at the front desk of the math department. “She teaches math here at PCC, but she has also written books, she is a speaker and she’s done a few Ted talks as well. She’s like the modern day hidden figure.”