Student Essay Contest

“Jen Tyne: For the Love of Math”

2011 AWM Essay Contest: Undergraduate Level Honorable Mention

By: Siobhan Mccue, University of Maine, Orono, ME

Early one frosty February morning I arrived at Jen Tyne’s office at the University of Maine, Orono, for our interview. A brief window of time had become available in her busy schedule which she kindly allowed me to fill. Jen is a Lecturer at the University of Maine, Mathematics and Statistics Department. As we sat in her office and talked her journey began to unfold. So let us start at the beginning.
For Jen, loving math was easy from an early age. As a child, a small blackboard occupied a permanent space in her family’s kitchen. From as far back as she can remember her father, a Professor of Engineering, was always giving problems and puzzles to her and her brother to solve. Her eyes sparkled and she grinned thinking back on those days, “like many lessons in life that I learned from him, it was more actions than words. He just incorporated it into life – whether giving us math problems to work on in the car, or to keep us busy while my mom was making dinner.” Both Jen and her brother liked and grew strong in math.
Her family lived in upstate New York and she was educated in a public school through high school. Further inspiration came by way of her AP calculus teacher in high school who instilled an interest and respect for math, which remains to this
day. Living right beside the college where her father worked provided the added incentive to excel, and by her junior year in high school, Jen was taking college classes, building on her math interest.
When the time came to start looking at colleges, she knew mathematics would be her major and wanted a liberal arts education, choosing Boston College. In her senior year she volunteered with the Passamoquoddy Tribe in Pleasant Point,
Maine. Jen received her BA in Mathematics from Boston College, summa cum laude and commented, “I came away from BC with both a solid math education, and a strong foundation in social justice.” Upon graduating she spent a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps as a health educator for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. In this rural area of Alaska, at a native Yupik hospital, Jen provided health education throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta region.
With the hopes of combining her “math brain” with her “social justice brain”, Jen completed her Master of Science in Operations Research – a modeling and optimization field – from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Her continued interest to work with Native Americans led her to her first post-graduate school job working as a Biometrician with the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission in Olympia, WA. She provided statistical support to twenty
Native American tribes in western Washington and participated in tribal, state, federal and international forums in the development of harvest models for the management of Pacific salmon.
Her work in the field of math really speaks to how broad and diverse mathematics can be. As a Lecturer for the University of Maine Mathematics and Statistics Department, Jen teaches three to four undergraduate math courses per semester including statistics, pre-calculus and calculus. She also oversees the Math Study Center and the Computer Math Lab that serves 300+ undergraduates in hybrid courses.
In addition to these demanding roles she has developed both online and hybrid math courses. One in particular is a new general education algebra course which she teaches using an active-learning model. These materials were developed and published into a textbook.
Through awards that she has received, twice the IT Technology Award and once the Center for Teaching Excellence Active Learning Award, Jen has been able to integrate technology and non-traditional instructional aids into teaching. Her teaching style is known to be very straightforward with the added art of explaining challenging material in easy to understand ways. She was the first in the Mathematics and Statistics Department to incorporate a Tables PC in her
teaching, winning another IT Technology Award for this purpose in 2008.
Jen also received a grant from the National Science Foundation for her proposal “Peer Led Team Learning I Calculus” pioneering, once again, innovative ways to teach. The results of her study on the effectiveness of this project were published by the Maine Mathematics and Science Teaching Excellence Collaborative.
For Jen, education is big and her students know it. “I think of education as what opens the doors to their future. When students don’t get the math they need, when they have bad experiences, when they get turned off at a young age or when math is not stressed as important the doors to their future close on them. Many may not pursue careers that are heavy in mathematics, but that should be a choice not something that’s deprived of them when they are young.” She is a firm believer that there are lots of ways to apply your math skills to other fields. For college students she suggests not just taking a lot of math courses, but also taking courses in areas to which math can be applied.
While tirelessly attending to all of these projects, Jen is busily raising three children, (ages 4, 6, and 8). Today, like when she was young, a small dry erase board occupies a space in her kitchen. The tradition of practicing puzzles and sequences continues. Somehow she finds time to run, swim and bike, completing her first sprint triathalon last year. As our time together was drawing to a close, Jen slowly started putting on her sneakers to try and squeeze in a run. As I shook her hand and thanked her, she smiled, “Ah, for the love of math.”
About the Student:
I am Siobhan McCue, a Freshman (transfer) student at the University of Maine, Orono. I have always loved math, and shortly after high school took two classes at the MIT Lowell Institute School in applied math. After many years and one beautiful child later, I have returned to school to finish my degree. As an anthropology major I am certain my study, use and love of mathematics will continue to aid in my research and ultimate understanding of the world around me.