I was raised with the importance of education ingrained in me from a very early age. My only permanent addresses have been on Stanford University’s campus, a school that both of my parents attended. My dad felt so tied to the university that, after business school, he went on to work for the University president and then served as the president of the alumni association for over two decades. He also did something that I know not every parent does or can do: he made sure that my two sisters and I would have the money to go to any college of our choosing – we would never have to pay for ourselves or take out student loans for our undergraduate educations ourselves. Going to college was simply a given. And that was a luxury that I feel like I must have taken for granted at sometimes, because I was incredibly fortunate to have the doors to my future open from the start. I did not always realize what a gift this was.
There were times when I, like other high school students, feared the “nerd” label and did not put as much effort as I was capable of into my schoolwork. I distinctly remember going against my Geometry/Algebra 2 teacher’s recommendation that I stay in the highest math “track,” instead I dropped down half a track to take the “normal” junior course my sophomore year. However, this did not set me back whatsoever, in fact, it may have helped me. I was able to take AB Calculus as a junior, and then come back to be a teaching assistant for this teacher the next year. In these two years, my interest in and passion for mathematics sparked. I went on to be a math major in college at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
My academic interests were somewhat diverse. I had friends in the math major who had minors in economics or a science or accounting, but I decided to do a double-minor in psychology and theatre. I always felt that the intersection of these disciplines was math education. GWU had a graduate school of education, but as an undergraduate there were no education programs of study. However, with this combination of concentrations, I felt that I would still be equipped to move on into math education after college. I had the content knowledge, likely a strong understanding of students and how they develop and learn (from psychology courses and from being an undergraduate teaching assistant my senior year), and experience in performing from years of participating in theatre.
I applied to and was accepted in the Math for America program, and 10 days after graduation I moved to New York City to start at Columbia Teachers College.
There are a number of reasons why I did not complete the program, and left after six months. The first was that my health was very poor. A personal and health crisis led me to take a medical leave of absence mid-way through the spring semester my junior year. I returned as a senior in the fall to complete college, but the entire year I tried to mask an illness that got progressively worse. I had also put a great deal of pressure on myself academically, striving for excellent grades and honors each semester. By graduation, I was burnt out, but I did not realize that yet. I only had a ten-day break between leaving one significant chapter of my life and starting a new, even more significant one.
The next reason was that New York City was not the right place for me. I had visited several times, but only for a few days at a time. Living there was quite a different experience, one that exhausted me early on.
Finally, teaching was not exactly what I wanted to do. I believe I did not realize this because I did not think I could work in math education as anything but a teacher. The two summer sessions at Columbia went well for me, but I fell very sick that August. In the fall semester, I nearly lived in the student health center and a local hospital. By Thanksgiving, I knew it was going to take much longer to recover than I would have liked, and I was only going to get worse if I did not take the time to get better.
The next few years were tumultuous at best, health wise, but I still held on to a desire to work in math education in some capacity. Finding the Carnegie Foundation and the work they were doing in math curriculum development was a life changer. I volunteered to help in the work that centered on two context-based courses designed to serve as “Pathways” through developmental mathematics and college-level courses, specifically for community college students who have to take remedial mathematics. Three months later, I started a two-year fellowship at Carnegie, working full-time in the Community College Pathways program. By starting out slowly, I was able to give myself enough space to work on my recovery while renewing a sense of purpose in my life as well, and this was truly a turning point and such an invaluable experience. One thing I learned was that instead of teaching, my place in math education would be in curriculum development. The fellowship program helped me to grow professionally, intellectually, and personally; being a “Post-Baccalaureate Fellow” for two years was an incredible first job, and everything I needed to get back on track after a few years in which I had practically dropped out of my own life.
I had to decide what I wanted to do after the fellowship, though. I applied for one job with a company that creates computer-based math curriculum for students in second through sixth grades. It was, and still is, the kind of work I would like to do, but I did not get the job. It was then that I started considering going back to school. Thankfully I did not have to look far to find an ideal graduate program at Santa Clara. The Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Education with a Science, Technology, Environmental Education, and Mathematics emphasis has been an excellent learning experience so far, and is helping me to figure out exactly what I want to do for a career. More importantly, my graduate course of study is equipping me with the knowledge and skills needed to excel in any path I take on next. Presently, I would like to work in math curriculum development at the K-8 level, but nothing is decided for certain at this point. I am halfway through the program and making the most of my time back in school. I faced some setbacks through my years in higher education, but I feel that it all worked out for the best and I am precisely where I want to be today.