By: Catherine Douglas
Even though math came easy to me, it was not a subject I pursued. I thought I was going to become a doctor. In college, I struggled with my Introductory Calculus class. My instructor was speaking a foreign language – limits, deltas, epsilons, limits, derivatives etc. Uggh. I wanted to do well so I paid a tutor but I still struggled. I eventually reached a crossroad when I was taking an Organic Chemistry class and a Calculus class. I disliked the Organic Chemistry class and was struggling in the Calculus class. However, I would spend hours trying to figure out the math but was not interested in learning Organic Chemistry. Then it dawned on me, if I was willing to spend so much time trying to learn math, I might as well major in Mathematics. So I switched my major to Applied Mathematics.
Throughout my college career, I always tutored students and worked with outreach programs. After struggling with math, I realized one of the reasons I struggled in math as I progressed to advanced math classes was because sometimes the instructors were not able to explain the concepts in terms I could understand. I figured out a way to explain math in terms that related to my everyday life. It was very rewarding when a student realized that math was not as hard as they thought. I knew I wanted to help students learn that they can excel in math based majors and careers and thought the best way to do this was to become a math professor.
After working for NASA maintaining satellites for 4 years, I applied to grad school to pursue a doctorate in Applied Mathematics with a focus on Math Modeling using Differential Equations. At a point during my journey, I came to understand there were not many students of color excelling in STEM major – Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering in particular. I also understood that to increase the numbers of students of color in these majors we had to reach these students at an earlier age. Therefore, I made the decision to pivot and focus on developing and implementing programming to introduce students, particularly students of color, to STEM through hands-on projects and develop their mathematical, problem solving and critical thinking skills. This led to me working full-time for the UCLA Samueli Engineering Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity (CEED) Program. Through my work in the CEED Program, I learned more about the problem and how to develop programming to address those problems at the pre-college and undergraduate levels. I also built relationships and partnered with other professionals doing the same work. Over the years, I progressed from a pre-college program coordinator to the Associate Director of CEED’s Pre-College Program and was recently named the Director of the Center for Excellence in Engineering and Diversity. In this position, I will continue to provide and develop programming to address student needs on the pre-college, undergraduate and graduate level. My plan includes on the Pre-College level:
- Exposing students to STEM through hands-on projects
- Developing students’ STEM identity
- Preparing students to be competitively eligible pursue and succeed in STEM majors with a focus Engineering and Computer Science
- Increase the number of students of color applying to and being admitted to schools of Engineering.
On the Undergraduate level:
- Support undergraduate students academically
- Help Students grow their professional network
- Encourage and provide students to research and internship opportunities
- Develop Students leadership skills
- Encourage pursuit of graduate school