Each of these five women has dramatically influenced my life’s trajectory. Their words and actions have inspired, guided, and encouraged me far beyond what their official responsibilities would warrant. I have no way of repaying them directly for all that they have done for me, but I hope to continue this wonderful legacy by going out of my way to mentor and encourage others through the course of my own life.
Natasa Masanovic Courtney
Role: Dr. Masanovic taught the German classes which I took at the University of Alaska Anchorage as a high school student.
Dr. Masanovic’s attention to detail, precise subject knowledge, and commitment to excellence inspired my passion for detail, subtlety, and precision in all of my academic endeavors. I have applied these principles to my work in German, English, and Mathematics. More than ten years later, I still vividly remember her meticulously explaining the finer points of future-tense, passive-voice constructions.
Role: Dr. Vanderschoot taught my Calculus and Linear Algebra classes at Wheaton College.
Dr. Vanderschoot is the reason I became a math major. I was only intending to take calculus as part of my required physics major, but after a semester with Dr. Vanderschoot, math won me over. Her classes made calculus clear, interesting, and engaging. She was the consummate professional, demonstrating the highest level of commitment and organization in all of her classes. I also found it extremely inspiring that she was both mathematician and mother. Interacting with Dr. Vanderschoot prompted me to consider and ultimately pursue mathematics professor as a viable, family-friendly profession.
Role: Sunny was one of my education professors at the University of Alaska Anchorage when I completed my MAT.
Although I had experienced mathematical challenge before this point in my life (I was a math major, after all!), I don’t believe that I ever appreciated it until taking mathematics methods courses with Sunny. Speaking from the perspective of someone now earning her doctoral degree in mathematics, I will say that our homework assignments were no joke! While in Sunny’s class, I learned to truly embrace the process of challenge, and appreciate the richness of a problem.
Sunny introduced a level of pragmatism into my education life which reformed my entire pedagogical perspective. As an educator, it can be difficult to extricate oneself from the blame game. Regardless of your role in the education process, it is all too easy to blame others for the knowledge level of your students (it’s their parents fault, it’s their lack of attendance, if such and such teacher had done their job earlier, we wouldn’t be in this position right now, etc.). Sunny consistently helped us transform this narrative into “Here is where my students are, here is where I want them to be—-what can I do to get them from a to b?” Over the years, this has reframed my perspective as a teacher, allowing me to focus on maximizing student learning in every situation.
Role: Janet was also one of my education professors at the UAA during my MAT.
Janet showed me that it is possible to be completely kind while maintaining the highest behavioral and academic standards. If there are any Teaching with Love and Logic fans reading, this epitomizes Janet. She helped me see every student as a person, and to take the extra time and care to figure out what is going on in their lives, connecting with their better nature. Through Janet’s mentoring, I substantially expanded my teaching abilities in the affective domain.
Role: Heather is a senior lecturer and assistant director for the Center of Excellence in Undergraduate Education at Iowa State University.
Heather has provided me with a level of opportunity and encouragement which has truly transformed my experience at Iowa State.
While working as a Team-Based Learning TA for Heather, I learned Calculus I more deeply than I had ever understood it previously (and this is after taking, TAing, and teaching it!). The projects which students completed in this course were extremely rich, challenging, and captured the heart of the discipline. Through Heather’s work and example in the course, I learned how to support students as they were challenged, helping them embrace productive struggle. I was able to see the benefit of engaging students in problems with a high degree of subtly, as opposed to shielding them from these “special cases” or more complicated applications.
Heather also went out of her way to connect me with research opportunities in mathematic education. When I expressed interest, she gave me the opportunity to join a research study that she was conducting concerning the implementation of Team-Based Calculus. She invited me to the RUME (Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education) conference and helped me find the funding sources to attend. As a mathematics graduate student with a strong interest in mathematics education, it has been an incredible opportunity to have a professor with a degree in mathematics education who is willing to mentor me in the mathematics education realm; through these collaborations I have been able to learn the ins and outs of quantitative and qualitative education research methods, and feel confident that I will be able to successfully pursue the scholarship of teaching and learning in whatever position I occupy.
Heather is one of the busiest people I know, and has the highest standards for personal excellence. In spite of her overwhelming workload, I have been impressed with every single student interaction of hers I have witnessed. She takes the time to truly connect with each student in an unhurried manner, asking them about their lives, showing empathy, and addressing their mathematical questions with patience and integrity.
Heather has also proved a constant source of personal and professional encouragement. She is interested in my research and teaching, asks me about things happening in my life, and consistently expresses an unfailing belief in my ability to succeed. As any graduate student will attest, the PhD process can sometimes be quite discouraging. Having people such as Heather in your life enables you to not only survive—-but also thrive—-during challenging points in the process.