MiraCosta College Mathematics Professor Catherine Walker believes there’s more to mastering math than exponents and binomials. Multicultural, inclusive activities are key. Allowing students to use family stories as a source for research papers, exploring Hawaiian numeration and measurement systems, Maya and Babylonian number systems—all are incorporated in her teaching.
“I want my students to see themselves in word problems involving math so they can identify with what’s going on,” said Walker. “For a logarithmic scale problem involving the brightness of celestial bodies, I include the names for stars in other languages, such as A’a for Sirius. I also alter word problems to be inclusive of the LGBTQIA+ community by selecting a variety of pronouns and situations, such as two women preparing for their wedding. I believe it is important to honor the knowledge and ways of knowing from different cultures. All math was not developed by a single type of person—white men—and not all people learn in a Western lecture setting.”
Walker began teaching math at the Oceanside Campus in fall of 2018, but she’s already making an impact. Walker serves as a member of the President’s Alliance for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and she has been working with others in the Mathematics Department to empower students from traditionally underserved and underrepresented communities.
Her approach is rooted in her past. She recalls a high school math teacher who advocated on her behalf after a counselor doubted Walker’s potential to thrive at a top university. “Having somebody stand up for me like that really made a difference,” said Walker, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Rutgers University and a Master’s degree in Secondary Education at the University of Pennsylvania, in addition to a Master’s degree in Mathematics from the University of Hawaii.
“You have to believe in your students,” she said. “You have to believe they will succeed. You have to support them along the way. Students need to know they are 100 percent capable of succeeding.”