Student success has always been a priority at UC Merced, and now students looking for support in math have an additional resource with the launch of The Math Center.
“We’re very excited to collaborate with the Applied Math faculty to enhance the substantial resources the campus offers through the Calvin E. Bright Success Center and the STEM Resource Center,” Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education Elizabeth Whitt said. “The Math Center is unique in that it focuses solely on mathematics, and its programs and activities are designed to enhance students’ math knowledge and skills.”
The center is staffed by lecturer Haik Stepanian with the Applied Math group, along with Applied Math graduate students and advanced undergraduates. Located in the Student Services Building, Room 320, The Math Center will be open four days a week to start — Monday through Thursday, from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. — and expand as demand grows, perhaps including Sunday hours.
“The plan is to always have a graduate student or instructor as well as trained peer educators in the center, so the knowledge and skills needed to assist with any math question will be there,” said Alisha Kimble, assistant dean in the Office of Undergraduate Education.
The center is funded by a grant from the University of California Office of the President focused on student success, and is administered and coordinated by the Office of Undergraduate Education. The Math Center is guided by a steering committee that includes Applied Mathematics lecturer Yue Lei, and will maintain close relationships with math faculty members to make sure its resources are in line with curriculum.
“All of the Applied Math faculty members strongly support The Math Center,” Lei said. “Besides offering much-needed support for undergraduate mathematics curriculum, we would like to see it grow into the center of a campus math community.”
One critical component of the new center will be monitoring outcomes to measure success.
“We’re working with the other learning centers and math faculty members to finalize the assessments, but we know we’ll be looking at whether more students are passing their enrolled math courses,” Kimble said. “Beyond that, we’ll be investigating in what ways the center can empower students by developing knowledge, skills and strategies associated with success in math, and coursework in general. Longer term, we’re interested in how a support curriculum driven by discipline-specific pedagogy and staffed by math instructors and undergraduate assistants can affect the long-term success of students.”
The Math Center’s primary focus is on increasing student proficiency in lower-division math courses, including Math 5: Pre-calculus, which is now required for the campus’s most popular majors: psychology, biological sciences, and management and business economics. A majority of undergraduates enroll in the course as a foundation for calculus or statistics sequences, but many find they are not as prepared as they’d like to be, the Office of Undergraduate Education said.
However, the center’s staff members can help any students with any current math courses.
Kimble said the Center is going to be a great place for grad students trained as teachers, and undergraduate assistants learning the basics of teaching, to be innovative in how they help students who struggle with math.
“It’s the UC Merced spirit to say ‘let’s try this and see if it works.’ We want to be able to be responsive to student needs, and our structure allows us to innovate the ways in which we provide support,” she said. “We’re really optimistic about the new venture.”