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Tadele Mengesha

Mengesha with his family while hiking in the Smoky Mountains.

Tadele Mengesha is an assistant professor of mathematics. He’s been at UT since 2014.

Personal history

Mengesha, who was born and raised in Ethiopia, was a first-generation college student.

“My dad didn’t go to any modern school. He can read and write in Amharic, my language, learned from church school. Looking back, he was incredibly smart. It is from him that I learned addition and subtraction, hanging around in his business.”

Mengesha said his mother attended school only through about fifth grade.

“But my parents believed in educating their children strongly and this was drilled into us at home. They reminded us that our primary job was being a good student.”

He also watched his older brother, who went to college. “He was a smart kid and because of that he was loved and respected at home and in the neighborhood, and I always wanted to be like him.”

Why math

Mengesha attended Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.

“At the end of the first year, we were asked to list our possible choices for a major in order of preference. However, practically, it was immaterial if you want to be a doctor or pharmacist or mathematician unless your grade was very, very good. My first-year grade was barely passing, and although math was my third choice, I was assigned to major in math. I didn’t like it at first, but once I realized that I didn’t have any other choice, I was determined to do well in my new major. In the first semester of the second year, I did really well.

“I am so grateful for the encouragement and direction I received from my university professors who made me think about doing math beyond the undergraduate level. This was a fantasy for a small city boy and just a second-year student.”

Advice to his college-age self

“I wish I had worked harder at writing. I’m very sloppy, composition-wise,” he said. “This is especially true for science students where writing is considered secondary. My advice for science students is to develop their writing and communication skills so that they can explain their scientific results in a clear way. Like anything else in life, writing skill can get better by practicing more.”

Mengesha as a college student.

All over the map

Mengesha has traveled and lived all over the world.

After completing his studies in Ethiopia, he studied for a year at the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy. He came to the United States in 2002 to complete his doctorate at Temple University in Philadelphia.

After earning his doctorate, he taught at Pennsylvania State University and Louisiana State University.

In addition, he’s traveled to conferences in a variety of countries, including Germany, Finland, and Vietnam.

While he was traveled all over the world, Mengesha said Philadelphia feels most like home.

“It is the first city that I have lived in, in the United States, and the longest I have lived in, for five years as a student at Temple University. The city is a huge sentimental place for me. It is where I met my wife, where I was married, and where my son was born.”

Outside interests

Spending time with his family—his wife, Kalkidan Amede, and his children, 10-year-old Ahadu and eight-year-old Selam.

He likes to help his kids with their homework. And, he said, “I ran the Homecoming 5K run with my son.” 

Favorite book

“Occasionally, I read biographies and autobiographies.” His favorite person to read about is Nelson Mandela.

Favorite TV show

“I am a big fan of Nova on PBS,” he said, adding that anything about the planets and universe piques his attention.

“The eclipse, for example, was an awesome moment for me.”

Mengesha watched the solar eclipse in Farragut in order to see it for a full minute and 20 seconds.

Favorite food

Ethiopian food. “My two favorite Ethiopian dishes are doro wat and tibs, both eaten with injera.”

Doro wat is a chicken-based stew and tibs is a marinated beef dish sautéed with vegetables. Both are eaten with thin bread called injera.

“We cook Ethiopian food at home. I said we, but really my wife is the one who cooks at home, and her food is amazing. I just help in doing the dishes.”

Most people don’t know

“I’m shy.” That will surprise his students, he said, because “I talk very loud and I’m always conversing with them.

“It is always nerve-wracking to meet and talk to new people, and when I meet new people it takes me a while to project confidence. However, I like teaching and talking to people about things that I am confident at.”

If he didn’t do this

“I always wanted to be an engineer because my older brother was an engineer.”