30 years after leaving Romania, this couple has found a home in Baylor’s math department
It’s been 30 years since Dorina and Marius Mitrea made the life-changing decision to leave everything behind in Romania and come to the United States to pursue careers in higher education. Their success might make it all seem obvious now — after 20+ years at Missouri, they joined Baylor’s math department last year — but a trip back in time to 1990 reveals just how daring a move they made.
As Marius put it, “When failure is not an option, you are a lot braver than you would otherwise be.”
Living under a communist regime in Romania, the Mitreas really didn’t have the option of pursuing careers elsewhere. The couple met at the University of Bucharest, where they excelled in math — but despite their abilities, the Iron Curtain meant their opportunities were limited. But in 1989, change began sweeping across Eastern Europe, and by 1990, that change had come to Romania. But… Dorina was expecting their second child, and leaving for the U.S. would mean accounting for a growing family and making an overseas trip with next to nothing to their name.
“We were determined to make it work,” Dorina says — and so they did just that. Marius was able to enjoy two days with his newborn son before boarding a plane for his first overseas flight. With just $15 to his name, he came to the U.S. with little but an aptitude for math and a burning desire to make it work for his young family.
“When Marius left for the West, he said, ‘I will do everything in my power to be back together as soon as possible,’” Dorina recalls. “Six months after he left, I was able to join him with our two kids. Ever since, we’ve been together.”
When Marius arrived, he knew he had good academic credentials, but no ability to pay even a $20 application fee. The University of South Carolina waived the fee for him, and he jumped at the opportunity to earn his doctorate. Dorina followed, earning her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Eventually, they both ended up as faculty at the University of Missouri, where they built strong reputations for teaching and research in the math world. Dorina even made it to the Oval Office in 2003, when she was honored by President George W. Bush for her mentorship of a renowned middle school math team.
Last year, they came to Baylor together. Dorina is chair of Baylor’s Department of Mathematics, and Marius serves as a professor in the same department. They were drawn by Baylor’s Tier 1 research ambitions and the opportunity to bring their philosophy of working with students here. Knowing what it’s like to be hungry and to have to work hard to get where you want to be, Marius says their students here will find what their past students have discovered as well:
“Mathematics is about long-term focus and maintaining ties with your students. Helping them throughout their emerging careers is one of the things that gives us the most satisfaction in our jobs. Once you have worked with us, you will never walk alone.”
Sic ’em, Dorina and Marius Mitrea!