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2 May 2008
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’ education levels.”

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 the county.

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 county.

“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 come.

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 win.”

“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 782-5269.

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.

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