After Hours: Maria Hernandez

Maria Hernandez, math instructor and fiddler

Position: Mathematics Instructor — not surprising for the daughter of long-time mathematics and physics professors.

Years at NCSSM: 20 (with short stints at Ravenscroft and in Brussels, Belgium, during the course of those years)

Home: Durham, via Wilmington, via Santa Clara. But probably not the Santa Clara you’re thinking of. Keep reading.

What do you do outside of work? Fiddle around. Literally. Maria began playing violin as a sixth-grader in Wilmington, North Carolina, where she played in the school orchestra. Classical music was her genre, at least until she got to college. That’s where she met guitarist and future husband, Steve Luteman. “He played bluegrass and old-time music,” Maria says. “He was oh so excited that I played the fiddle. I was like, ‘Well, I don’t really play the fiddle.’”

She does now, however, and has been doing so for more than thirty years. What began as a music-filled college romance grew into a marriage filled with music and friends jamming in the living room. Today she and Steve play a mix of waltzes, airs, swing, New England and Southern fiddle tunes as the acoustic duo High Clouds. While they still play in their living room with friends on Wednesday nights, they also play at their church, at community and convalescent centers, and dining establishments and watering holes throughout the Triangle (check for dates and venues). No matter the venue, it’s always about “the community that you feel,” Maria says. “It’s the high that you get when you’re sitting there creating music together.”

What coworkers may not know about you: Maria is originally from Santa Clara, Cuba. At eight months old she immigrated with her family to the United States to escape Cuba’s communist government. Though she has never been back, she hopes to visit one day.

Bonus info: She has two sets of twins among her five siblings; Maria has a twin brother and three older sisters, two of whom are twins as well.

Best part of your job: The students and faculty. A math teacher and graduate advisor at NC State said to Maria, as she was planning her future, “If you want to make a difference in math education, you should go visit the School of Math and Science.”

Favorite perk of working at NCSSM: NCSSM’s reputation throughout the country as a highly esteemed educational institution has provided Maria, in part, with a lot of opportunities to go and see and do. “I spend a lot of time doing outreach,” Maria says. “We get invited to share what we know by national groups. That’s pretty special. We’ve been spreading the word for a long time. . . People are sitting up and listening to it now.”

One thing about working here that you’d do differently: Improve communication across disciplines and across departments, both formally and informally. “As we’ve grown bigger and bigger, it’s hard to know what people are doing in different parts of the school,” she says. She’d like to see more conversation between departments and divisions across the entire school, “a little bit more ‘around the supper table’ conversation.”

— Interview and photo by Brian Faircloth

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