New formula for mathematics success on display during Gov. Brewer visit

Brewer, Haeger and Thompson

Saying “the traditional way of teaching college math leaves far too much to chance,” Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer got a firsthand look Thursday at how the Lumberjack Mathematics Center at Northern Arizona University is improving the odds of student success.

Brewer toured the center after a round of speeches and a ribbon-cutting attended by local political figures and NAU administrators, faculty and staff. During the visit, Brewer saw faculty serving as guides and mentors while students navigated a computer-driven program of instruction in a series of first-year courses.

“I was thrilled with the opportunity to experience first-hand the new Lumberjack Mathematics Center,” Brewer said. “NAU has been a true pioneer of education innovation, and this emporium is the latest example of its steadfast commitment to its students. I applaud the university for establishing a tool that will foster long-term success not only in mathematics, but in life after graduation.”

The center, which came online this semester on the fourth floor of the Health and Learning Center on NAU’s Flagstaff campus, is one of the most visible beneficiaries of an increase in state funding approved by Brewer.

NAU received $3.3 million in its FY13 funding from the state as its share of an allocation for course redesign and classroom technology.

During her remarks, Brewer questioned the loss of potential when students are pushed away from “a deeper understanding” of mathematics. “Far too often in the first year,” she said, “students struggle and transition to less math-intensive fields of study.”

At the same time, she said, Arizona needs more graduates in science, technology and engineering, all of which require “a firm foundation” in mathematics.

Brewer went on to credit NAU President John Haeger for his “steady leadership in keeping higher education accessible and affordable throughout the state. It seems like anywhere you go in Arizona, NAU has a presence.”

Brewer at first spoke over the shouts of a small group of protesters who arrived to take issue with border policies.

“It’s wonderful that we live in America and we believe in our First Amendment, isn’t it?” she said to applause from the audience.

At the mathematics center, more than 1,900 first-year students in three newly designed courses meet during regularly scheduled times during the week. But unlike their experience with a traditional course, they have immediate access to faculty, graduate students, tutors and math coaches, in addition to the self-pacing software.

NAU’s center is based on a “math emporium” model that has proven to decrease D’s, F’s and withdrawals among first-year students. Increasing retention is more important than ever for the university as its funding becomes more tied to performance metrics that emphasize degree completion.

During the event’s opening remarks, Haeger noted that students coming to NAU are different than those who arrived 10-15 years ago because “they come with a certain level of technology expertise.”

What students today are looking for, Haeger said, is the opportunity to combine the sophisticated technology that is readily available to them with personal contact, emphasizing that easy access to excellent faculty “has always been our hallmark as an institution.”

The mathematics center constitutes one element of the newly launched University College, which is the organizational umbrella over NAU’s growing list of initiatives to increase freshman retention and overall student success through curricular change, coaching, mentoring and the integration of technology into course delivery.