2022 Student Essay Contest: Undergraduate Honorable Mention

“Agnes Tuska: Journey to Fresno State”

by: Jose Lopez-Hernandez (California State University, Fresno)

Interviewee: Agnes Tuska (California State University, Fresno)

This upcoming August Dr. Agnes Tuska will celebrate her 30th year as a professor of mathematics at Fresno State University. That’s an incredible achievement and she’s had an incredible journey to get here. Far too often we as students overlook the work and the journey our professors have had to go through to get to where they are; in some sense we forget they are human too. This is Dr. Tuska’s journey and I hope I do her justice. 

We begin in Budapest, Hungary where Agnes was born and raised. She lived with her mother, father, and older brother. Her father was an architect and her mother was an elementary school teacher. Agnes remembers having fun and being fascinated with her father’s logarléc, or slide rule, which served as an analog calculator. She was interested in how it worked and she practiced numerous calculations with it; it was very dear to her and she still has it in her possession today. At school, after Agnes would finish with her classes, she would sit in her mother’s class at the end of the day and stay engaged in the lessons even though the material being covered was a year ahead of her. She was close to her brother, who was three years her senior, so she would take an interest in what he was learning. At times she would understand the material, usually math, better than him and as a result she would assist him with it. All the above could have served as external motivating factors, but superseding them was a strong intrinsic motivation. Agnes recalls that from an early age she felt independently that it was her duty, her interest, and her responsibility to take care of her studies. 

Let’s fast forward to Ms. Tuska’s university years at Eotvos Lorand University of Science located in her hometown of Budapest. She fondly remembers her time in university. She was a full-time student taking up to 30 units at a time, she was involved in student government, and she tutored on the side as well. During the summers she worked/volunteered in academic camps helping disadvantaged students prepare for rigorous university entrance exams. The camp leaders and the participating students would all work together at a co-operative farm harvesting different crops from 7 am until about noon, and then in the afternoons and evenings they would have intensive study sessions covering different subjects that the students would be evaluated on in their entrance exams. Ms. Tuska had fun too; there was a sailing camp for math and physics students for which she recruited students and partook in for 4 years! They would rent out a couple of boats and take turns sailing, additionally they would camp out and play games or go out on excursions, and as Professor Tuska put it, it was “disco time” so they would go dancing too! 

After completing the 5-year program at Eotvos Lorand, Agnes graduated with a Bachelor of Science in math and physics, and she also earned her teaching credential in math and physics as well. Following university she went on to work for three years as a high school teacher at the distinguished Berzsenyi Daniel Gimnazium. She enjoyed her time there because many of the students deeply cared about learning, and the structure of the school enabled the students to pursue more courses that aligned with their interests in 11th grade versus everyone being restricted to a uniform curriculum. 

Coming to the United States to pursue a graduate degree was never in Agnes’s plans or dreams. Hungary is very dear to her heart and she has visited countless times, as well as stayed in contact with friends and family throughout all these years. Life is unpredictable and you never know where an opportunity might arise from. This opportunity happened to originate over 4,600 miles away. A Hungarian mathematician named Paul Nevai, who was a professor at Ohio State University at the time, was recruiting graduate students from all over the world to Ohio State. Agnes happened to be recommended by some of her former professors at Eotvos Lorand. English was her biggest weakness and she had never been to the United States before, but rather than deter her, this excited her! Agnes said she has always liked challenges and she viewed this as an opportunity to travel, to better her English, and to learn more math. 

Ms. Tuska’s English was so weak that when she applied for graduate school she signed up for the PhD program in mathematics instead of the masters program, because she didn’t know which one was higher and, to her, becoming a master of mathematics was unfathomable. In Hungary to be a master of something meant to be the leading person, or it was the highest honor. Ms. Tuska did end up receiving her masters in mathematics, and then she went on to earn her doctorate in mathematics education from Ohio State. She recalls that in her first year of graduate school her brain expanded more rapidly than it ever had before. Up to that point in her life everyone she knew was Hungarian, spoke Hungarian, and knew something about Hungary. Here she made friends from Portugal, Ecuador, Ethiopia, and Chile, just to name a few. She enjoyed the opportunity to hear firsthand about the experiences from so many different parts of the world. She was impressed by the magnificent main library at Ohio State, which was 10 stories high and had a fantastic collection of books, journals, and researchable archives. Ohio State also had computer labs, some of which were open 24 hours. Computers were still fairly new at the time, so Agnes would stay until 4am at times just to learn how to use them better. 

In the summer of 1992 she defended her dissertation, and in August of 1992 she started her career here at Fresno State. Today she continues to teach some math classes and she also serves as an advisor for students who are seeking to pursue a teaching credential in math. Thank you for all your years of service Dr. Tuska. You have inspired me profoundly.