Kent State Stark and Perry High School Educators Receive Grant for Summer Math Program
Sitting in her high school calculus class senior year, it all clicked for Ashley Meinke. Math was her passion.
Fast-forward to today, Meinke is in her 11th year teaching mathematics at Perry High School and is active with the school’s Math Club. She spends her days with top math students, teaching Honors Pre-Calculus and AP Calculus to upperclassmen.
Meinke is at home in the classroom, spending time there as a teacher – and a student. She received her undergraduate degree from Kent State University at Stark and her master’s degree at the Kent Campus.
That’s when she developed a great working relationship with Bathi Kasturiarachi, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics at Kent State Stark. Namely, Kasturiarachi served as her professor, worked with her on her honors thesis and, later, as her master’s thesis advisor. Following her collegiate career, Meinke also has invited Kasturiarachi to Perry on several occasions to do math presentations.
Given their history, it was no surprise when Kasturiarachi approached Meinke with the idea to work together again, this time with their respective colleagues, and apply for the $5,000 Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) Dolciani Mathematics Enrichment Grant, which they recently received with the help of the Stark County Educational Service Center. Kasturiarachi is the first faculty member to receive a prestigious MAA grant for Kent State University.
The proposal? An intensive, weeklong summer mathematics workshop for students all across Stark County next year – the 2022 Stark County Summer Math Academy.
“I think this will really allow us to hone in on some kids who maybe aren’t involved in sports or other things and academics is a little more their niche,” said Meinke. “And hang onto the kids who aren’t as represented.”
The Dolciani Enrichment Grant helps fund mathematics programs targeting first-generation, low-income, minority and female students interested in the STEM fields.
“A lot of (the schools) have been selected from the rural areas in the U.S., whether it’s Native American, whether it’s Hispanic communities,” Kasturiarachi said. “(The MAA has been) very thoughtful about which groups are underrepresented. I’m glad that we were able to bring it to Stark County.”
Students from all over Stark County will have the opportunity to apply for the Summer Math Academy. The 45 students who are accepted will self-select into one of three concentrations: 1) Advanced Calculus; 2) Data Science; or 3) Explorations in Pure Math. At least 25% of the chosen applicants will be women and underrepresented students.
And before you think this math academy will be all lecture-based, Kasturiarachi challenges you to reconsider.
“It will be more hands-on. It will be discovery based. The students will be immersed in a (mathematical) problem right away and they’ll be doing work on that,” explained Kasturiarachi. “And the very last day, they will do a final presentation in small groups of the larger project we’ve designed.”
The small groups will be led by Meinke and Kasturiarachi, as well as another Perry math teacher, David Olszewski, and two other Kent State Stark faculty members, including: Paul Andaloro, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics; and Michele Heron, Ph.D., associate professor of education.
Meinke is looking forward to the unique interactive approach.
“I’m excited about getting kids excited about math,” she said. “We do so much in math class, but it’s usually just a lot of routine examples. I think that the academy will open their eyes to what they can do with mathematics beyond just the routine problems that they’re used to seeing.”
She is also aware of the importance of such experiences to high school students, especially those planning on going to college.
“At our school, we don’t have computer science classes, so this is an opportunity for them to be exposed to that, and (get) a little taste of what college math will be like, too,” Meinke said. “College math classes are so different from a high school class – a lot more proof-based… That’s not something that we always have time to do during the regular school day.”
STEM fields are for everyone
Both Meinke and Kasturiarachi are hoping that programs, like this one, can change students’ views about mathematics and STEM fields.
“The goal of the grant is to get that curiosity spinning a little bit,” explained Kasturiarachi. “STEM fields are generally considered ‘hard’, and people just try to stay away from them. And, so, by getting the curiosity going, and showing them that they can be good at doing fundamental projects and research and having the technology behind them is very helpful. That’s the goal. For students to go back and say, ‘I had this opportunity. Can I continue this kind of thing in college?’ ”
“It’s interesting because even though I teach the top math students, they’re not all necessarily interested in continuing. I’m a steppingstone to where they want to go sometimes,” she said. “I think there is kind of a stigma and a fear, but hopefully, through things like the academies, we can start to put an end to that.”
Kasturiarachi looks forward to seeing the spark.
“I’m most excited to see a change in the students,” he said. “As long as they bring that excitement and enthusiasm to do it – it is rewarding in multiple ways. I see that in my classroom as well at Kent State. They finally get it, and they say ‘Oh, I wish someone had told me this is how it was done.’ I’m looking forward to getting to that point.”
Meinke hopes to experience the moments that ignited her passion for math.
“I’m really just looking forward to revisiting a lot of my old textbooks and jumping back in and reliving some of those math memories,” she said. “This isn’t content I get to necessarily work with anymore, so I think through re-sparking my love, I’ll be able to then bring that into the academy for our local students.”
If the Stark County Summer Math Academy is successful, the program grant is renewable.
And based on the passion both Kasturiarachi and Meinke have for mathematics and students, it’s an equation that results in success.