Major Dilemma

Mathew Kerns
Math/Computer Science

I teach, arguably, the most hated subject on a college campus – mathematics.  Yet this is a subject matter that is ubiquitous in every society, from taxes to credit cards, to mortgages and car loans, and finding discounts at the local supermarket.  Even being able to understand and think critically about news that one might be consuming on an evening news program, most often boils down to understanding math and thinking critically and logically.  We ask our students to think critically in all subjects, but in math class this seems an insurmountable task.  I need students to question and think critically about the statistics they might be encountering in that aforementioned news broadcast, and math provides that foundational logic with which to question the world around us.

On the first day of class, I tell my students the anecdote of all the friends I’ve had who chose their major based on how many math classes they had to take.  This breaks my heart.  I tell my students they should choose their major based on what they love and what interests them – the passion alone with usually drive them to persevere through the math courses required.  This was my breakthrough moment – for the first time in my teaching career!

I had a student in a Developmental math class come up to me at the end of the semester and explain how she had never been good at math, or so she thought.  This can be attributed to many things, but for the first time, taking my class along with the very first story I told, she told me that she was going to pursue her dream of wanting to be an engineer.  She didn’t specify which branch of engineering, but she was just excited to finally have the opportunity to even consider these thoughts again thanks to the accessibility and style of the class that was offered to her.  This student particularly liked the lecture style instead of PowerPoint mathematics, and she liked that I allowed students to do paper and pencil homework out of the book instead of the online software.  That software brings its own barriers with syntax and related issues, so removing this barrier allowed this student to flourish.  She has a long journey ahead of her, through tumultuous math classes and ups and downs and questioning herself and her decisions, but I told her that her passions and excitement for the end goal will drive her through those valleys.

This particular student’s experience reminds me every day that I am championing the College’s general mission of serving all segments of the society, serving the community, and teaching lifelong learning.  I also think this student’s success in my class embodies the overall mission statement of the College that “Lansing Community College provides high-quality education ensuring that all students successfully complete their educational goals while developing life skills necessary for them to enrich and support themselves, their families, and their community as engaged global citizens.”