Shawn L. Smith
Assistant Professor of Mathematics
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” ∼ Milton Berle
Dr. Felipe Lopez and I were concerned with students that could not graduate due to failure to place into a math level; thus, with the approval of the Dean of Art and Sciences, we created a MATH 112 class geared towards students that did not meet the required mathematics level. Embedded in the course were sessions that help build the prerequisite skills as well as aid in the current learning. The student, Jose Lopez, made it clear to me what role I needed to fulfill in my new arena.
Jose was a Lucero student who possessed the characteristics of the students we wanted to populate this particular course. He was a few credits from graduation, which made him very motivated for this intense classroom experience. Mr. Lopez’s temperament is one of a friendly giant (he is well over 6 foot and a hefty young man). Unfortunately, like most of his classmates, mathematics had a way of belittling them. On the first day of class, students were told that this chance will never be offered again and this opportunity is bigger than all of us. Armed with a team of support (a supplemental instructor, volunteer tutors, Dr. Lopez, and concerned administrators), we navigated through the MATH 112 content. My break though with Jose occurred while he was working on a problem on the white board. After he completed the problem and was sullen because he did not achieve the desired answer, I went back through his problem. “Jose, what is 3 times 2?” He answered with 6 but his worked showed 5. I quickly pointed out that we cannot make arithmetic mistakes and from that point on, I called him “3 times 2”. He got a laugh of it.
Jose was a fixture at study sessions and started to open up more. Careless mistakes started to disappear and comprehension was proven by improved scores and demonstrations in class and study sessions. He successively passed both MATH 112 and the next semester MATH 130.
This past spring, Jose and two of his classmates from that MATH 112 class walked across the stage at the Breslin Center as graduates of Lansing Community College (another classmate graduated from Central Michigan University). His plans are to transfer to Michigan State University this fall. Our team effort removed a massive roadblock and launched a few lifelong learners of color into the world.