2011 AWM Essay Contest:Middle School Level Honorable Mention
By: Cassandra Luca, Charles E. Brown Middle School, Newton, MA
Sitting at the table, brows furrowed, Magdalena Luca looks like any frazzled mother and mathematician. She opens her agenda and crosses something off of the long and winding list of things requiring her attention. Has she always been this busy? Well, yes.
Dr. Magdalena Luca was born in Romania in June of 1966. Her mother was Hungarian and her father was Romanian, so she grew up speaking both languages. While in school, the curriculum was rigorous and there was no question whether or not homework was assigned. It always was. “We worked really hard. Every year we repeated things we had learned the previous year, each time with an added degree of complexity.” This continued for 12 years, including Saturdays, and afterwards Dr. Luca found herself going to Transylvania University for her undergraduate degree. She says: “My fifth grade math teacher definitely sparked my interest for mathematics. She always gave us challenging problems, and she explained everything thoroughly, to help us understand. That’s when I knew that I wanted to do the same thing.” After she moved to Canada she received her Masters Degree at the University of Manitoba and her PhD at the University of British Columbia, both degrees in applied mathematics.
Dr. Luca firmly believes that if math is your calling in life, you should honor it. Getting involved with the school’s math Olympiad team is important, and if your school doesn’t have one, create one! Doing a lot of problems as well will keep your brain exercised and soon enough, it’ll stick. On top of that you should know that there is more than one path to being a mathematician; you don’t have to be a math teacher. You could go into math finance, economics, or even engineering.
Currently, Dr. Luca teaches applied mathematics at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. She specializes in algebra, pre-calculus, calculus, and her favorite, statistics. Those courses are narrowed down still further, for she only teaches the courses needed in the first two years of college. Last year, in 2010, she won the teaching award for all her hard work and effort put towards teaching the minds of the future.
Dr. Luca firmly believes mathematics is very important. Mathematics is not just important to help you get a job when you are older; it shows you how to solve problems that are critical to your way of life and helps with understanding things better. For example, say you are shown a resume, and you happen to look at the email address. The email address is different than the name on the resume, and you can’t help but wonder “Shouldn’t they match?” You inquire about this and realize that nobody thought of it before. This is the kind of thinking that Dr. Luca told me comes from a person who understands mathematics, because the brain is used to a more logical way of thinking. In summary, you think increasingly “outside the box,” and less and less haphazardly. Also, it is very important to master the basics, because if division is hard, it’ll be even harder to learn equations. You should have a good, solid foundation so when the time comes to learn something new you are ready. Additionally, when you are taught something new and you don’t understand it fully at the beginning, just keep working at it. Most importantly, when you are in the middle of a test don’t worry about failing because if you know the material, why be worried? “Nothing’s hard when you know it,” Dr. Luca says.
The best thing about being a mathematics teacher, Dr. Luca reveals, is certainly not yelling at your students for texting, but the bond between the student and teacher. “One of the reasons I won the teaching award was because I got a lot of student recommendations. They like me as a teacher because I respect them and I am very fair. I in turn love my students because they want to learn something new, and it feels good when I help them, and I always love it when they ask for my help.” Clearly, teaching certainly does have its benefits.
All her hard work certainly paid off. “It was a long, tedious journey. I’m glad that what I do impacts other people’s lives and helps them go down the path they want to take. Math is crucial to learning, and it’ll help what you want to do later on.”
In her spare time Dr. Luca loves to travel, and can’t wait for her trip to Paris this summer. She says that she’s been preparing for months, and is very excited to see new things and to visit the museums. Reading is one of her hobbies. Unfortunately, Dr. Luca never has enough time to read except when on the T, Boston’s commuter train. Dr. Luca is good at only one sport: skiing, and every winter she goes up to Maine with her family for a few days to do just that.
About the Student:
My name is Cassandra Luca, and I am currently in the sixth grade. I attend Brown Middle School in Newton, Massachusetts. Magdalena Luca is, in fact, my mother, and I’ve grown up surrounded by math teachers. She has always been a big help when I’m stumped by a math problem. At school, my favorite subjects are Math and English. At my school, we have math Olympiad, and I always take part in it. My hobbies are reading, writing stories, drawing, occasionally playing video games, and of course, math.