Graduation (1 of n)

Many of the Hood College new faculty cohort.

Many of the Hood College new faculty cohort.

The year flew by, and my first commencement as a faculty member is over. We sat in the hot sun in our hotter robes as the Hood College Class of 2016 paraded across the stage. I hadn’t taught many Seniors this year, so most of the faces were unfamiliar, but it was fun watching the students beaming as they shook the college president’s hand. What I didn’t expect was all the students wanting photos with the department after the ceremony. It was really touching to see how much they valued my colleagues time and patience. And luckily the clouds had moved in a bit by then so nobody passed out from the heat.

When our students complete a math course at the 200 level or higher, they receive a button that represents the class. They’re simple and a little corny, but the students love them. A lot of these buttons live on student backpacks for years, and then get worn on their robes or mortarboards at graduation. It’s a nice symbol of the progress they made during their time here, and it really livens up their regalia.

One of our students with her impressive collection.

One of our students with her impressive button collection.

This wasn’t the most productive semester of my career, but I hit a good number of my targets. I applied for and received an internal grant to do summer research with two undergraduates – ambitious freshman I had all year for their calculus sequence. We’ll begin working in June, and I’m sure I’ll be posting about that later. I’ve never guided any undergraduate research projects before, so it will be a learning experience for all of us. I got accepted to some other summer programs that I’m really excited about – one for inquiry-oriented curriculum, and one for developing online interactive resources. I chugged away at a couple of papers and one’s starting to get close to the finish line. I implemented standards-based grading in my graduate class, which was wildly successful with some students and much less so with others. I dipped my toes into helping at my MAA section meetings, and got nominated to a few committees, both on campus and in the wider mathematical world. And I was on a couple of masters student committees. Pretty much checked all the expected boxes for my first year.

I’m thinking about all this not because I’m independently reflecting on my year like everybody says you’re supposed to. We have a short annual report due soon, in which we all have to express our accomplishments as eloquently as possible and explain our goals for the future. It’s not nearly as big an undertaking as a mid-tenure review, and these reports should help me organize myself once that time comes, so I definitely see the value. It’s also nice to see how much I really got done all in one place, especially after what felt like a somewhat lackluster semester. I think a lot of us focus so hard on the goals we didn’t meet that it’s easy to ignore the ones we did. I can’t say I’m thrilled about the paperwork, but I am glad my institution requires us to brag as hard as possible about ourselves at the end of every year.


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4 Responses to Graduation (1 of n)

  1. Avatar aBa Mbirika says:

    Hi Sara. I am an Asst. Prof at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and as a “newbie”-ish person I like to implement new exciting things. I was ESPECIALLY delighted to hear about the button idea. I would write you outside this comments place, but I imagine others would maybe want to know more about that. My questions are: (1) Where do you make the buttons?, (2) Do students who do not pass still get a button?, (3) Would you be willing to share the button artwork for the corresponding courses?

    BTW, I love reading you and Beth’s posts. In my postdoc at Bowdoin 2010-2013, I was a big fan of reading Adriana’s posts. And now I am a big fan of your two posts! Cheers and thanks. -aBa

    • Avatar smalec says:

      First, thanks for reading! As for your questions, we currently get the buttons printed through some off-site shop, but I’m looking into getting us a button maker so our student workers can do them for us. And yes, every student gets a button, regardless of their grade. We always give them out on the last day of class, before they even take the final.

      I’ll see if we can share our artwork, but as you can see from the photo many of them are very simple and could easily be replicated with just latex. I’m still not sure which classes all of the buttons in the photo are for, but you can probably recognize calc 1 and 2, abstract algebra, number theory, math history, real analysis, linear, and Pi Mu Epsilon. I think flashy design isn’t that important, but using some symbols or notation that’s vaguely cryptic to an outsider seems to make it fun for them, like they’re a part of an elite club with an intellectual secret handshake.

      • Avatar Nick Meyer says:

        As an undergraduate at Winona State University, having something like this would really be cool, as our mathematics major here is really strong but small. These buttons could be a great way to get more people thinking about our math department.

        Also, aBa, it was great meeting you a few months ago when you came to talk at Winona, your talk was really fun and really lit a fire under my seat to do well in Number Theory, which I did.

  2. Avatar Jayakumar A G says:

    Nice idea .Such practices make students involve more sincerely in the learning process.

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