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Summer Math Academy

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Associate in Arts Program helps incoming students bolster their math skills

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​Kennya Lopez said that the Math Academy is getting her “up-to-speed” for fall semester as a UD student. ​

Incoming University of Delaware student Kennya Lopez said she expected to spend summer weekdays at her longtime job, doing bookkeeping for a cleaning company, but instead she was busy with algebraic equations, trigonometry, and geometry.

Lopez is in the inaugural cohort of the Summer Math Academy, based at the Wilmington campus of the Associate in Arts Program (AAP). The six-week program is designed to enhance the math skills of first-year, incoming students interested in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, while giving them an understanding of the skill sets and habits they will need to succeed at UD.

Lopez, 19, is a first-generation college student whose parents immigrated to the United States when she was a young child. She said that she had a lot of support at McKean High School that helped her navigate the college admission process. And, she said the curriculum prepared her for college.

“I always felt pretty good about my math skills,” she said. “I took statistics as a senior and did well.” But Lopez, who graduated in 2021, worked fulltime last year to save money for college. “I feel rusty now; I have been away from school so long,” she said. “I plan to major in biology or marine biology and know that I’ll need math. This program is getting me up-to-speed again.”

One of her keys to success has been “a very flexible boss,” Lopez said. “My boss lets me work nights and weekends so that I can come to Math Academy. She is always asking me about school and encouraging me to study.”

On a recent morning, students worked on a series of algebraic equations while Sarah Vigliotta, assistant professor of math and director of the Summer Math Academy, circulated through the room, answering questions. Vigliotta is assisted by two UD math education majors, Andrew Hill and Havilah Schnaars. Earlier that morning, the students had talked about goal-setting and time-management, skills that they will need when they take a full course load this fall. During a lunch break, participants were encouraged to get to know each other better in the student lounge, which offers panoramic views of the Wilmington skyline. This time for socialization was intentional.

“We are working to build a community of student scholars who can provide each other with peer support as they pursue further STEM courses,” said David Satran director of UD’s Associate in Arts Program. “College readiness is a two-way process where both students and the program gear up for fall. This program is a show of our institutional readiness.”​

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​ Assistant Professor Sarah Vigliotta (left) works with a student in the Summer Math Academy. ​

The Summer Math Academy also is designed to build students’ confidence and self-reliance so that they are “inspired to see themselves as math scholars,” he added.

Mark Gockenbach, the chair of UD’s Department of Mathematical Sciences, championed the concept that the academy should help develop students as scholars rather than merely offer remedial assistance. He drew from the work of Philip Uri Treisman, a University of Texas at Austin professor whose research shows that students who learn to see themselves as mathematicians and as academics are more successful in their studies.

“I am grateful to Mark and David for making this academy happen,” said John A. Pelesko, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “The contributions of Program Director Sarah Vigliotta also can’t be overlooked.”

Vigiliotta was a lecturer at Yale University before joining AAP’s faculty in 2019. She said she was attracted by AAP’s combination of academic excellence and accessibility. “I wanted to find a position in which I could make a difference,” she said.

She acknowledged that it was a heavy lift to help put together the first-ever Summer Math Academy, but her eyes lit up as she talked about executing the program after months of preparation.

“The students are excited to be here, and we are, too,” she said. “We are providing an authentic college experience. It’s fast-paced; we move from topic to topic very quickly.”

Yaw Asante, a 2022 Middletown High School graduate, concurred. “It’s moving quickly, but I am progressing. This program is helping me a lot.”

The Summer Math Academy is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Unidel Foundation.​

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