Dr. William A. Meehan:
Ciphering the Mathematic Message
By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - The Jacksonville News
Nearly 500 area students in grades 7 through 12 are arriving on
the Jacksonville State University campus today to compete in the 38th Annual
Calhoun County Mathematics Tournament.
The tournament has proven to be a successful tool to teach students the
enjoyment in activities promoting academic learning and achievement,
socialization and cooperative work with peers, and the importance of math as a
future field of study.
Knowledge in higher and more advanced mathematics is a growing necessity for
students entering college or a career out of high school.
It seems more jobs than ever are looking to hire graduates with
concentrations in math and computer science in order to advance companies to a
competitive level in the modern, technological world.
From a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education, Clifford Adelman
reported in an Achieve, Inc. newsletter “that the highest level of math taken in
high school has the most powerful relationship to earning a bachelor’s degree.
This is true regardless of student ethnicity, family income or parents’
Achieve, Inc. is a non-profit group in Washington, D.C. created by the
nation’s governors and business leaders to build and improve academic standards.
The Mathematical Computing and Information Sciences (MCIS) Department at JSU
offers a dual enrollment class in precalculus algebra at several high schools in
Students in this course, as well as many others from Alexandria High School,
Ohatchee High School, Pleasant Valley High School, Saks High School, Weaver High
School, Wellborn High School and White Plains High School will be competing for
individual awards and team trophies in Ayers Hall today; the most coveted of
these is a one-year tuition scholarship for a student to attend JSU.
Martha Knight, instructor in the department of MCIS, says, “The students who
participate in the tournament are very enthusiastic about it. They enjoy the
competition and meeting students from other schools. I think their participation
enhances their interest in mathematics, and they gain more confidence in their
ability to do mathematics.”
Knight is responsible for setting up tournament test rooms and an awards
facility, ciphering answers, and working with Department Head Dr. Frank Kelley
to determine the scholarship recipient based on applications submitted by
seniors competing in the algebra III test and for the first year, the dual
enrollment test, as well as grades made in previous high school math classes,
ACT scores, and scores made on the tournament test.
While the precalculus algebra dual enrollment test questions are created by
math faculty at JSU, faculty from area schools aide in exam preparation for 7th
grade, 8th grade, algebra I, algebra IA, algebra IB, plane geometry, informal
geometry, algebra II with trigonometry, algebra II, and algebra III.
John Griffin has been teaching at Wellborn High School for 15 years and has
taken a group to the tournament hosted by MCIS every year.
This year Wellborn is bringing 66 contestants and four teachers.
With about 30 county teachers attending to participate in administering and
grading tests, the event each year is a representation of the close ties JSU
holds with its community, making the effort to enhance education throughout the
“We have had tremendous support from Mrs. Knight and her mathematics
department who have assisted with writing tests, reviewing tests, finding rooms,
and opening their buildings for us, as well as from the Calhoun County Board of
Education, where Ms. Willingham has worked countless hours in coordinating the
logistical and practical aspects of the tournament,” says Griffin. “The
tournament is very important to us, both in recognizing our outstanding young
scholars, and in shining a spotlight on mathematics. When we bring back a trophy
the entire school celebrates with us.”
Being able to host the tournament on JSU’s campus is also a shining
experience—for the university and the students. Knight says, “Having the
tournament on a college campus adds to the atmosphere of the competition and
creates interest about Jacksonville State University.”
Perhaps for many of the students participating, this is their first time
visiting a college campus; we welcome them and hope it is not the last.
For the winner of the scholarship, today’s visit will be one of many more to
Griffin explains his advanced mathematics students are extremely excited
about the possibility of winning a scholarship. “Every day my seniors who did
not get picked [to participate] have come up with a more outlandish scheme to
sneak into the tournament because each of them is convinced he or she could win
the grand prize,” says Griffin. “I have vetoed disguises, borrowed vehicles, and
skyrocket diversions. But I do have a soft spot in my heart, and I wish I could
sneak every one of them in because I am also convinced any one of them could
“Every year I have observed the hush before the announcement and the thrill
of that student standing before his or her contemporaries and accepting the
award,” says Griffin. “Every year this award makes a college education more
possible and affordable to an outstanding young student.”
For more information on the MCIS department, visit www.mcis.jsu.ed or call
Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and
Communications, contributed to this article.
About William A. Meehan
Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville
State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.
See story at The Jacksonville News's website: www.jaxnews.com
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