Fear of math does not add up

04.07.2014 | By Rob Vanya

San Jacinto College student Darby Macha works on math exercises in the College’s robotics lab. Despite a gap in her education, collaborative learning methods helped her get up to speed in math in a short period of time. Photo credit: Rob Vanya, San Jacinto College marketing, public relations, and government affairs department.


So, you think you want to be an engineer, or perhaps a computer programmer and rake in the big bucks. But the thought of all those math courses you will have to take in college sort of scares you. You are not alone. It’s a common fear.

“We call it math phobia,” commented Nate Wiggins, San Jacinto College math and engineering professor. “On the college level, we see it constantly. It’s probably the main hurdle that keeps people from STEM careers (science, technology, engineering, and math).”

Wiggins says the math phobia he so often encounters just does not add up. “A student does not necessarily have to be naturally good at math in order to become proficient,” he said. “There is more than one way to learn math concepts. An average student can become good at math. It just takes discipline, willingness to stick to it, and willingness to learn proper methods of study.”

San Jacinto College goes to great lengths to help students go from loathing math to actually liking it. For example, the College offers a robotics lab, math tutoring labs, and math and engineering student clubs to help engage students in hands-on, interactive projects that incorporate math concepts in creative ways. “In the robotics lab we generally use a more informal approach, which takes the pressure off so students can discover some of the cool stuff you can do with math,” Wiggins remarked. “It’s rewarding to help students discover that math can be interesting and stimulating, and especially when they realize how important math is in regards to creating and manufacturing products.”

There is a critical need for workers in STEM-related careers, all of which require an aptitude in math. According to a recent study by the University of Texas Task Force on Engineering Education for Texas in the 21st Century, Texas will need an additional 88,000 engineers by the year 2025. The high demand will be due to the ongoing expansion of the oil and gas industry. The high demand is not limited to Texas. Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce predicts that the total number of STEM jobs nationwide will grow 26 percent between 2010 and 2020.

Little wonder then why San Jacinto College, like many other colleges, looks for innovative ways to help students embrace math and attract them to STEM areas of study. One successful endeavor started by the College is Acceleration in Mathematics (AIM), which uses focused and flexible teaching methods.

“With AIM, we have seen some students get excited about math for the first time, and as a result, continue to take more college math courses,” commented San Jacinto College preparatory math instructor Donna Havard.

AIM students benefit from tutorial assistance, instructional immersion, and collaboration of teachers. Teams of two professors teach AIM courses, one from college preparatory math, and one from college algebra. The curriculum is structured in such a way that students rapidly progress from developmental levels to more advanced courses like algebra in a seamless way.

Math major Darby Macha is thankful for such efforts to help students improve in math. Due to a three-year education gap after high school, she was “rusty” in math, and consequently had to take college preparatory math when she first enrolled at San Jacinto College. “I wasn’t surprised that I needed a refresher, but I was surprised by how much of one,” Macha commented. “I had to start at the lowest level of math the College offered.”

Macha applied herself and began to rapidly advance from developmental levels to Calculus II and Linear Algebra, an engineering math course. Because of her rapid progress and determination, she now serves as a student mentor in the College’s robotics lab. Building close relationships with professors and fellow students has been key to her success. “I have knowledgeable math professors and engineering students around every corner to ask for help,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with asking questions when you don’t understand.”

Macha will earn an associate degree in math from San Jacinto College in 2014, and will transfer to the University of Houston Clear Lake, where she plans to earn a bachelor’s degree in math. She is weighing career options. “I am not yet sure about a certain job, but being a mathematician gives you many options,” she remarked.

As one who has overcome math phobia, Macha offers words of encouragement to others facing similar obstacles. “People who are interested in science, technology, engineering, and math careers should not let their fear of math divert them,” she said. “I am living proof that you can become good at math. It just takes discipline, determination, and confidence.”

San Jacinto College offers math and engineering courses and associate degree options at all three campuses.


About San Jacinto College

Surrounded by monuments of history, industries and maritime enterprises of today, and the space age of tomorrow, San Jacinto College has been serving the citizens of East Harris County, Texas, for more than 50 years. The Achieving the Dream Leader College is committed to the goals and aspirations of a diverse population of 30,000 students in more than 200 degree and certificate options, including university transfer and career preparation. Students also benefit from the College’s job training programs, renowned for meeting the needs of growing industries in the region. San Jacinto College graduates contribute nearly $630 million each year to the Texas workforce. San Jacinto College. Your Goals. Your College.

For more information about San Jacinto College, please call 281-998-6150, visit www.sanjac.edu, or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SanJacintoCollege.