College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Graduating Senior Already on Mission to Improve Math Education

 Mathematics intimidates a lot of students, but Mary Margaret Rich embraces the subject and hopes to inspire others with her knowledge. She’s so passionate about improving math education that she has become involved in the field even before finishing her college degree.

Rich, a student from Madison in the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College at the University of Mississippi, is one of the 3,363 candidates for degrees who graduate Saturday (May 12).

She turned her enthusiasm for math into her honors thesis, “Technology Use in High School Mathematics Classrooms in North Mississippi.” She observed four teachers in area teaching two different math classes and interviewed them about their opinions on how technology should be applied in the classroom.

“There are so many new education technologies, and many teachers are not informed about effective technology use or trained in use of educational technology, but some are,” Rich said. “So the reason I wanted to write my thesis (on this) was to see how Mississippi teachers are doing.”

Both of Rich’s older brothers, Tom and David, attended UM, and she discovered that the university offered everything she was looking for in a school. “The University of Mississippi was a great value for their education, and I knew I would be challenged academically in the Honors College,” said Rich, daughter of Neal and Cindy Rich.

She credits William Staton, UM professor of mathematics, with encouraging her career path.

“He teaches with enthusiasm and inspires you to want to learn more,” Rich said. “He is gracious with his time, devoted to his students and his classes are challenging.”

She is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Mortar Board and Pi Mu Epsilon and a volunteer with Leap Frog tutoring. She earned the Alfred Hume Award for Outstanding Senior this spring. Although she has maintained a 3.93 GPA, she said that grades are not the most important part of college life.

“What you learn is the most important part, not just the grade you receive. The learning experience is equally important. I had two physics classes I worked really hard in, and I earned a B, but I learned so much,” Rich said.

During the fall of her freshman year, she joined the Center for Mathematics and Science Education, and was the first Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, double major scholarship recipient, enabling her to pursue both a mathematics and a mathematics education degree. In return, she worked two hours a week at the center.

“While working at the CMSE, Mary Margaret was able to interact with graduate students pursuing their master’s and doctorates in mathematics education, as well as interact with faculty involved in mathematics and mathematics education,” said Alice Steimle, CMSE associate director.  “Mary Margaret played key roles in helping us achieve our mission of improving mathematics and science education in Mississippi.

“We have had the opportunity to watch her grow professionally into an outstanding student and someone who is passionate about mathematics and mathematics education.”

After graduation, she plans to relax in Madison for a few weeks, then return to Oxford this summer as a lead instructor of Math Camp before she begins her master’s program in the fall.

Steimle said she is pleased Rich will return after graduation. Rich has been offered a graduate fellowship, which will allow her to become even more involved in the professional learning community that has been created at CMSE.

“Mary Margaret has led the initiative to create a seminar and virtual learning community for Future Math Teachers of Mississippi, and I have been extremely impressed with her,” Steimle said. “Her determination, passion, content knowledge and enthusiasm are to be commended. We feel privileged to have had the opportunity to work with her thus far and are looking forward to a longstanding relationship and bright future ahead.”

And what is Rich’s advice about math? “Don’t let a past experience with math influence your feelings. Give it a chance, because everything in the world is based on math. It is the most consistent subject we have,” she said