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Math for America director to discuss national teaching initiatives

by Mark Schwerin

Oct. 6, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Dr. Katherine Socha.
KALAMAZOO--What do math and math education have in common with Benjamin Franklin?

A visiting scholar from Math for America will answer that question and more this month, when she visits the Western Michigan University campus.

Award-winning mathematician Dr. Katherine Socha, will speak at 11 a.m. Friday, Oct. 14, in the Alavi Commons on the sixth floor of Everett Tower and at 4 p.m. that afternoon in 1110 Rood Hall. She is here at the invitation of WMU's chapter of the national mathematics honor society, Pi Mu Epsilon.

In her morning talk, Socha will describe the initiatives at Math for America, a 7-year-old program designed to nurture and support mathematically talented people in the teaching profession. She also will discuss the "Math Trails" activity that Math for America developed--walks around different parts of New York that highlight mathematical questions and puzzles one could ask classes of children at different grade levels.

In her afternoon presentation, titled "Sea Battles, Benjamin Franklin's Oil Lamp and Jellybellies," Socha will use Franklin's construction of an Italian oil lamp while on a voyage in 1762 to show how observations of real phenomena have led to mathematical models. In addition to the oil-water waves Franklin observed, examples she will cite include rings formed by striking the surface of water and the motion of nutrient laden water being swept into the underbelly of swimming jellyfish.

Socha is director of education policy for Math for America, a nonprofit organization with the mission to significantly improve mathematics education in public schools. She has received the Lester R. Ford Award for Expository Excellence and the Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching from the Mathematical Association of America. In 2009-10, she was a Science and Technology Policy Fellow for the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Division of Mathematical Sciences at the National Science Foundation.

Socha moved to Math for America from a position as associate professor of mathematics at St. Mary's College of Maryland, where she served as the founding advisor of the Women in Science House, co-founder of the mathematics SMCM Emerging Scholars Program, and founder of a series of summer Research Experiences for Undergraduates for underrepresented students in mathematics.

Socha holds a doctoral degree in mathematics from the University of Texas at Austin, a master's in mathematical sciences from Portland State University and a bachelor's in mathematics from Reed College.

For more information, call Cathie Wilson at (269) 387-4511 or Dr. Niloufer Mackey at (269) 387-4594.