Not Your Average Prof
Can a nationally recognized, award-winning math professor who didn’t finish high school change students’ lives? Yes. And that’s exactly what math professor Matt Lewis is doing.
“Since I was 15, I wanted to be in college,” said Lewis. When other kids headed to the beach for spring break, he headed to college. “I had some college friends, and during spring break of my sophomore year of high school, I went to school with them. I was amazed. I wanted to learn everything, and still do,” he laughed. “The following year I convinced my parents to let me take the GED. I passed with no problems, and instead of returning to high school after Christmas break, I started college. Since then, teaching has allowed me to stay where I always wanted to be.”
Math is often a barrier that hinders students from successfully completing their higher education credential. Lewis worked on a team of San Jacinto College math faculty that developed the AIM (Acceleration in Mathematics) program, a corequisite course that incorporates remedial math with college algebra. “AIM students are usually one to two math levels below college algebra,” Lewis said. “But because of AIM’s reputation, students have this hope that you don’t see in a regular college algebra class. Their optimism is an incredible resource. If you can get a student to feel optimistic, you can use that to help them. They become resilient because of it.”
Lewis added that the College itself is changing the educational landscape of community colleges. “What works at San Jacinto College is our culture. This isn’t a place where you can easily be complacent because there’s always passionate people around you trying to innovate and do better for our students. Without that climate I don’t think any one of us would be succeeding. There’s no better place to be in community college education right now.”
Dr. Rachel Garcia once defied the odds to find success in her science career, so she says she gladly “accepts the challenge” to help others do so as well. That is one of the reasons why she is this year’s Minnie Stevens Piper nominee and Faculty Excellence Award Recipient.
Garcia understands that many students have obligations outside of school, much like she did, so she shares with them her story of navigating her own path. “I have been in their shoes, and I encourage them to never give up,” Garcia said.
Each year, Garcia submits a report on science outreach and receives a grant from the Greater Houston Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) to purchase supplies for chemistry demonstrations. The ACS has also awarded her a grant to fund a STEM Expo for young children. She annually presents to sixth grade girls at the Expanding Your Horizons conference. This past October, she organized a chemistry conference to address the cost of textbooks and other instructional resources.
“I often hear from students that they ‘never got chemistry’ in high school,” said Garcia. “I take those statements to heart and accept the challenge of getting the students to love chemistry as much as I do.”