Math doesn’t have to be a solitary pursuit, says Cecilia LaCroix ’16, of Ann Arbor, Mich.

20141211 LCS Cecilia LaCroix-010headshotAs a sophomore at Valpo, Cecilia participated in the Indiana College Mathematics Competition, also known as the “Friendly Mathematics Competition,” sponsored by the Indiana branch of the Mathematics Association of America. In this contest, math is a team sport.

She and two other students, both in their first year, formed a team that did remarkably well for a young team with no experience of competition. One factor that contributed to their success, Cecilia says, is that their work at Valpo had prepared them to understand that mathematics can be approached as a collaborative enterprise.

“Thinking creatively, approaching the problem from a different perspective, really helps,” Cecilia says. “Working with a team makes it easier to do that.”

The feeling of a helpful, inspiring community is strong at Valpo, Cecilia says, from the University’s support and encouragement of community service to the accessibility of the professors in the math department.

Valpo’s two-week spring break encourages students to spend time on service projects, she notes. Cecilia completed two service trips — one on an American Indian reservation and a second with a housing nonprofit in New Orleans.

The sense of community and collaboration is present when school is in session, too. Math professors are always willing to work with students to help them reach understanding, and that attitude tends to rub off on students, says Cecilia, who worked as a tutor for less-advanced students at Valpo’s Academic Success Center.

“Professors here are focused on the students,” Cecilia points out. “They have their own research, but they’re always available to us. There may be a TA who leads help sessions, but all the courses are taught by professors. I think it’s really important to be able to get that kind of attention.”

Perhaps as important is that collaboration can make the work more fun.

“In one course, we had homework due every Wednesday, and the professor had office hours on Wednesday before the homework was due,” Cecilia recalls. “A little group of students tended to show up for office hours every week, and we jokingly called it our weekly math party.”

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