Math pro­fes­sor rec­og­nized for fe­males in STEM ad­vo­cacy

Math pro­fes­sor hon­ored with CSM Fac­ulty Ex­cel­lence Award

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Sandy Poin­sett re­mem­bers tak­ing her first math class at In­di­ana Univer­sity in the late 1960s. She stepped into her Cal­cu­lus I class­room and was faced with a sea of men. Out of the more than 200 stu­dents in the course, there was only one other fe­male stu­dent along with Poin­sett.

“The two of us sat in the front row,” Poin­sett said, smil­ing at the memor y. “We were mo­ti­vated. We were both very fo­cused. And I think we ended up get­ting some of the best grades.”

Poin­sett, a long­time math pro­fes­sor at the College of South­ern Mar yland (CSM), tells this stor y and oth­ers to il­lus­trate the in­equity she has seen and ex­pe­ri­enced in math ed­u­ca­tion dur­ing her ca­reer. Poin­sett has worked hard at CSM to change that in­equity where women are con­cerned. But her pas­sion for math ed­u­ca­tion doesn’t end with women’s in­clu­sion. Her teach­ing style in the class­room is de­signed to help stu­dents of both sexes find math ap­proach­able. “I want to make math great again,” she said.

It is for these ef­forts that Poin­sett was hon­ored this year with the CSM Fac­ulty Ex­cel­lence Award, an an­nual award hon­or­ing one mem­ber of the college’s per­ma­nent fac­ulty. Poin­sett’s award was an­nounced at the college’s spring com­mence­ment cer­e­mony May 18 at the La Plata Cam­pus.

“It’s a big shock,” she said of the honor, adding that win­ning the award might be the thing she is most proud of from her ca­reer, which spans 20 years teach­ing math at CSM, 40 years as a pri­vate math tu­tor and three years as a high school math teacher.

Poin­sett grew up in Fort Wayne, In­di­ana, at a time when girls were ex­pected to grow up to be a teacher, a nurse, a mom or a sec­re­tar y, she said in a news re­lease.

“I had an ex­tremely high math SAT score, and no one said to me, ‘Hey, why don’t you con­sider en­gi­neer­ing or ar­chi­tec­ture?’” As a first-gen­er­a­tion college stu­dent, she said her world was nar­row. Her ideas about what she could pur­sue were al­ready lim­ited, and the sub­tle and not-so­sub­tle mes­sages that oth­ers com­mu­ni­cated about women in math-re­lated fields were not en­cour­ag­ing.

When Poin­sett be­gan teach­ing at CSM in 1997 and es­pe­cially when she started teach­ing cal­cu­lus in 2002, she could see that the world hadn’t changed very much from her years back at In­di­ana Univer­sity. “I was still only see­ing one girl out of 30 stu­dents,” she said.

This is when Poin­sett be­came an ad­vo­cate. “My goal was just to make sure young women were aware of the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able if they were good at math.”

Pro­fes­sor Tom Seremet, a long­time CSM col­league, says that Poin­sett has been suc­cess­ful in this. “She has changed the play­ing field,” he said. “What she’s done is help give young women the con­fi­dence and mo­ti­va­tion to take math.”

In 2004, Poin­sett was awarded grant fund­ing from the As­so­ci­a­tion of Women in Math­e­mat­ics to start, with the help of As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor Donna Sperry, the Women + Math pro­gram at the college. Now, with as­sis­tance from both Pro­fes­sor Dr. Stephanie McCaslin and Ad­junct Fac­ulty Kim Lukas, the pro­gram has ex­panded into “Women + STEM.” With con­tin­u­ing sup­port from the CSM Foun­da­tion, the pro­gram in­cludes an an­nual con­fer­ence where women in math-re­lated and similar fields like en­gi­neer­ing speak to young women about their ca­reer path and the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able. It’s all about ex­po­sure to what is pos­si­ble and in­spi­ra­tion for the younger women. For in­stance, this year the con­fer­ence fea­tured Lt. Rebecca Shaw, a test pi­lot for the U.S. Navy, as the key­note speaker.

Seremet cred­its this and Poin­sett’s re­lated ef­forts as the cause for a re­mark­able change in higher level math classes at CSM, he said. “In the past, it was pretty much all boys in the ad­vanced math classes. Now there’s as many girls,” Seremet said. “And with con­fi­dence and en­ergy, those girls are achiev­ing every bit as much as the boys.” This year, for in­stance, CSM’s out­stand­ing math and en­gi­neer­ing awards were both given to young women.

Poin­sett agrees change is hap­pen­ing, al­beit slowly. She sees the more even ra­tios in her classes in re­cent years, she said, but notes that, even still, in her most ad­vanced classes like Cal­cu­lus III, women com­prise only about 20 per­cent of the class.

In the class­room, Poin­sett says her ex­pec­ta­tions are high. But her own back­ground as a first-gen­er­a­tion college stu­dent who had to work her way through school makes her sen­si­tive to the dif­fi­cul­ties fac­ing her stu­dents. She be­lieves that, “By be­ing re­spon­sive to my stu­dents needs along with giv­ing them a safe en­vi­ron­ment to learn, I feel that they can be em­pow­ered to reach for new chal­lenges and ac­com­plish their goals.”

She starts her classes with an ac­tiv­ity that al­lows the stu­dents to start talk­ing and get­ting to know one an­other. She wants to fos­ter a col­lab­o­ra­tive class­room where stu­dents work to­gether and there is plenty of dis­cus­sion. “I am not a lec­turer,” Poin­sett said.

She is quick to learn all her stu­dents’ names. “I try to de­velop a re­la­tion­ship with them. So, later, I can maybe say some­thing pos­i­tive or mo­ti­vat­ing to them.”

Poin­sett uses a va­ri­ety of tech­niques to help her stu­dents achieve suc­cess. Stu­dents are as­signed con­cept quizzes, which are pre-lec­ture quizzes on ma­te­rial that will be talked about in class. These give stu­dents a chance to fa­mil­iar­ize them­selves with the new vo­cab­u­lary and con­cepts be­fore hear­ing about them in class.

Poin­sett has de­vel­oped a tech­nique de­signed to help stu­dents who failed or re­ceived a D on the first test. These stu­dents com­plete a re­flec­tion pa­per about their prepa­ra­tion for the test, are al­lowed to make cor­rec­tions on the test and then must visit her in her of­fice to dis­cuss these.

Fi­nally, Poin­sett as­sesses stu­dents as they work on ex­am­ples. She walks around the room check­ing their an­swers, and giv­ing them clues about where they went wrong if their an­swer is in­cor­rect. She says this as­sess­ment gives her a sense of who is un­der­stand­ing and who is strug­gling and gives stu­dents im­me­di­ate feed­back.

Over­all, her goal is “to stim­u­late my stu­dents’ in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity by bring­ing a pos­i­tive en­ergy to the class­room and help­ing them pre­pare to meet the ever-chang­ing needs of their com­mu­ni­ties now and in the fu­ture.”

When the Fac­ulty Ex­cel­lence Award was an­nounced, Seremet was quoted as say­ing, “If you mon­i­tor the many things Sandy does here at CSM there is a com­mon theme. She pro­motes the wel­fare of the in­di­vid­ual stu­dent first and then takes that base and con­nects it to the aca­demic achieve­ment of the stu­dent. She is a very car­ing pro­fes­sor.”

Poin­sett lives in Hugh­esville with her hus­band, Rod, whom she met at In­di­ana Univer­sity in that 200+ stu­dent Cal­cu­lus I class.

CSM De­part­ment Chair An­drea Ronaldi noted that mul­ti­ple fac­ulty ex­cel­lence awards have been awarded to CSM math, physics and en­gi­neer­ing fac­ulty over the years, a tes­ta­ment to the strength of that divi­sion.

“On be­half of the math, physics and en­gi­neer­ing divi­sion, con­grat­u­la­tions to Pro­fes­sor San­dra Poin­sett for the 2016-2017 Fac­ulty Ex­cel­lence Award. Sandy joins past re­cip­i­ents of the Fac­ulty Ex­cel­lence Award for this divi­sion — Dave Re­ichard in 1989, Wil­liam Em­ley in 1992, Steve Hun­dert in 2004, Tom Seremet in 2009, Sue Strick­land in 2011 and John War­ren in 2014,” Ronaldi said. “The ex­cel­lence of our fac­ulty is one of many rea­sons why CSM is a great choice for aca­demic pur­suits. Con­grat­u­la­tions to Sandy on this award and thank you for your ef­forts in and out of the class­room.”

SUB­MIT­TED PHO­TOS

CSM Pro­fes­sor Sandy Poin­sett, win­ner of the Fac­ulty Ex­cel­lence Award, is con­grat­u­lated by Fac­ulty Se­nate Pres­i­dent Mike Green at the college’s 58th spring com­mence­ment cer­e­mony May 18.

Poin­sett

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