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Solving the Math Problem

Donors draw on own experience, know the importance of math education

Students in a math class

From Bell Tower - 2018

Nationwide, students are struggling with college math requirements as it is often the main academic hurdle to obtaining a college degree. As Washburn University has worked to solve the problem, donors have played an integral role.

Starting in fall 2019, Washburn will no longer offer remedial math classes in their current form. Students who struggle with math will get individualized study plans to build the skills necessary for success in college-level mathematics. Unless the students have a degree that requires MA 116, also known as College Algebra, everyone will start in MA 112, Contemporary College Mathematics, which is a general education math course in quantitative reasoning required for a large majority of the degrees offered at Washburn.

Many of the MA 112 classes will take place in the new Math Learning Lab in Mabee Library and made possible by donors. It will have classrooms enriched with technology to allow students to go at their own pace through the class.
“The data has shown a model like this boosts success rates as students spend more time on math,” said Kevin Charlwood, professor and chair, mathematics and statistics department. “We want students to be successful the first time around as they are more likely to finish their degree.”

In Mabee Library, the Math Learning Lab will be next to the University Tutoring Center and near other academic success services. Alan Bearman, dean, University Libraries and Student Success, said the overall goal is to help more people finish their degree. It quickly came to fruition because donors provided the funding for the new space.

“We were able to go all in because of Washburn friends, alumni and donors who said if you need help, we want to help,” Bearman said. “That happens every time. They all recognize math is a big deal, so this is really a testimony to the entire Washburn community of learning and how we are willing to take big steps forward to help students.”

Donors Solve the Problem

John and Barbara Stauffer

John, h ’18, and Barbara, bba ’85, Stauffer were one of the first donors to step up to the plate, providing a donation to name the Math Learning Lab. Barbara didn’t follow the traditional route to college, and instead decided to work before attending. When she did get to school, she struggled with math, so she understood the importance of having a place for students to learn on an individual level.

Barbara worked for Forbes Air Force Base Hospital and then she continued her career with the government at the Housing Management Office in Topeka for housing and urban development. She retired from government before she began her second career in investments working for Oppenheimer.

“A lot of Topeka adults go back to school, and when I went back, I really had to work at College Algebra,” she said. “We made the donation because Washburn said it was one of their greatest needs and we had a desire to help students
in that area.”

Phil Etzel

Phil Etzel, ba ’71, had been interested in math since his grade school years and chose to major in it when he came to Washburn University. He tutored other students in math while going to college. To him, math made sense, but he understood people struggled with the subject he was so passionate about.

A room in the Math Learning Lab will be named after him because of his generous contribution toward the project, a gift he made because he wanted to give back to the math department.

“I wanted to give back to Washburn because it helped me succeed and get a good job,” he said.

After graduation, Etzel moved to Washington, D.C., and worked for the Office of Personnel Management, which is in charge of the federal workforce. He spent 25 years working on projects such as researching wage increases for federal workers and comparing federal and civilian wages. He has since retired and moved back to Topeka, Kansas.

Dick Shermoen

When many alumni think of the Washburn University math department, they often think of Dick Shermoen, who ran the department from 1967-93. When their son and daughter-in-law, Rich, bba ’81, and Lori, bba ’83, Shermoen, heard about the project, they started to reach out to people and raise money to name a room after him.

“After visiting with Dr. Charlwood, we think it’s a super idea to help students get through their required math courses, and it is really going to help students at Washburn,” Rich said.

Ed, ba ’70, h ’15, and Julie, b ed ’71, m ed ’90, Glotzbach initiated a challenge match to help raise the money to name the room after Dick Shermoen as a way of thanking him for helping Ed with his entire college experience.

“Dr. Shermoen was very instrumental in fostering my love of math, and he encouraged me to pursue further studies in mathematics,” Ed said. “He was an excellent mentor and professor who was always there anytime I had a question and helped me sort through job opportunities toward the end of my college career.”

Dick Shermoen said he was overwhelmed and humbled to find out a room will be named after him.

“I cannot express the great joy this has brought to me and my loved ones,” he said. “Our most gracious thanks to Washburn for this recognition. I feel it will have the resources to provide the guidance and support that will have a most positive impact in helping our students that are struggling to complete their mathematics graduation requirements.”

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Topeka, KS 66604
Phone: 785.670.4483
Email: contactus@wualumni.org