When I last wrote, I had overcome a hatred and perceived incompetence in mathematics my senior year of high school after struggling with it for at least five years. The story of how I ended up at FPU is another one, but essentially it was a college I didn’t want to go to because it was small and Christian and ended up loving it for those very reasons.
At FPU I learned to not think of math as something to be memorized but instead to be chewed on, picked at, and the creative art of problem-solving. Three stories illustrate this:
- Being Mentored: I remember getting an A- in Principles of Mathematics, the very beginning math class. I went to Chris Brownell’s office on a cold, raining December day with a cold and sat in his small, cramped office in Marpeck center(?). I asked him if I should continue, and he looked at me like I was crazy and said that of course I should if it’s something I want to do. That encouragement sustained me when I began to really struggle.
- Perseverance: Ron Pratt subbed for Chris at one point in Calculus 1 and was talking about the Derivative. I was having a hard time with the concept not quite sure WHY the exponent multiplied the coefficient and vice versa. He showed it on the board as it was something we should all know and I blurted out for him to show it again. As he was wont to do, Ron had a confused look on his face as to why that was difficult and said, “Oh ok you want to see that again,” and for whatever reason the second time he did it – I finally saw what was going on!
- Quaternions are strange mathematical objects. I found some computer program in Linux that took about 5 minutes to render even on my blazing fast 400MHZ AMD Athlon with 128 megabytes of RAM And 16MB Graphics card computer… I ended up not understanding ALL of the math but it was the first time I realized that complex numbers could have more than one imaginary component which was mind-blowing. Anyway, in one of our classes we were told to solve a, “difficult problem,” and I took on this topic – it was way beyond what I knew at the time but the joy of discovery was very empowering. There was also one time in the class Problem Solving that all of the really smart people (Steve Strand, etc) couldn’t figure out a problem involving circles and rectangles and I did using a simple yet elegant Pythagorean Theorem-based solution
- Community makes things better: Yes I said three things – but all of these experiences took place within the framework of a community of math majors and minors that I could not have gotten through FPU with out. I was able to help too, but leaned very heavily on folks like Jennifer (Ribb), Luis Jaramillo, Chris Wood, John Posten (Physics) and others. The Mathlete club that really took shape once Crystal Dearman arrived also was a HUGE amazing thing. That was where I also first learned about a mathematical reason for celebrating PI Day.
Through taking about 17 math classes if I recall (including Abstract Algebra which made everything finally make sense in a very theoretical way!), the close-knit FPU community also gave me the confidence that I’d never had to be involved with others in leadership and service. Seth Yates invited me to run for student body vice president after hearing about a senior citizens computer lab project I’d started. Loren Neufeld (Computer Science, Physics) although taught the only class I have ever failed – taught using variables in a way that really made sense and that I tried to emulate in my own teaching. At FPU even the University President ate lunch in the cafeteria and professors were revered but you could call them by their first name. It’s still a bit strange for me when I meet Dr.’s (the academic type) NOT being ok being called by their first name.
I left FPU with a far stronger mathematics knowledge base and problem-solving strategies. Something most people don’t know though, is that my early struggles at FPU took their toll and my math major GPA was below a 3.0 even though my overall GPA was about 3.5. (C’s in Calc 2/3 and Computer Science mainly skewed it downward). Thus, I had to take the CSET tests for mathematics and it took a few tries before credentialing, which was the main reason I worked at CVC Middle School for my first teaching job instead of finishing final student teaching…