Cherlyn Converse has been a fixture of the math department for more than four decades. When the Cal State Fullerton alumna first arrived on campus to study mathematics, she was one of only a handful of female students in her classes but she didn’t let that bother her. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at CSUF. She went on to earn her doctorate at Claremont Graduate University while teaching at Cal State Fullerton. Her doctoral dissertation and main area of research is in discrete mathematics with a secondary area of research in mathematics education.
“I loved it here as a student and now I love it as I teach students,” she said. She demonstrates her commitment to students by her willingness to take on difficult assignments or adapt lesson plans to help them achieve success in her courses.
One recent example of Converse’s skills and adaptability took place about a year ago when the CSU changed the way that campuses helped remediate students.
“Some campuses wanted to drag their feet on the changes,” said Adam Glesser, associate professor and vice chair of the Department of Mathematics. “But CSUF decided to get out in front of the changes. Dr. Converse redesigned the liberal arts mathematics sequence.
To give context, these students are not STEM majors and they are one of the university’s largest and most vulnerable populations. Many have a weak understanding of math fundamentals, or math anxiety. Others may have had a long break between math courses or lack the motivation to learn mathematics.
“Despite all the hurdles, Dr. Converse was able to create a model that has maintained high standards of excellence while at the same time, ensuring students are attaining these high standards,” Glesser said.
She also understands the need to get students involved in math even prior to college. She and her colleague, Professor David Pagni, worked with the Gear-Up Program that partners with schools, local school districts, local colleges and universities, as well as community partners, to actively engage students, parents, teachers, faculty and administrators to junior high and high school students to attend college. A fear of math programs is often cited as a reason that students don’t apply to college or persist to graduation.
Converse and her colleagues hope to change those attitudes.
Each year Converse is an invited speaker at the California Mathematics Council, presenting 15 times. She has also made eight presentations at the Orange County Mathematics Council.
Colleagues attribute part of Converse’s success to high impact practices including “flipped classes” (classes where content is presented to students outside of class in the form of videos or readings so class time is spent working on activities with guidance from the instructor). Students in flipped classes frequently outperform their peers.
However, this technique can take an extraordinary amount of time to produce all the necessary materials. Yet not only did Converse complete these tasks … she did much of it on her own.
In addition, she is also readily available to advise and mentor not only students but her colleagues as well.
“Dr. Converse is a Titan to the bone,” said Marie Johnson, dean of the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. “She has had a tremendous impact on students and future mathematics teachers.”
Converse has taught over 20 distinct courses (several of which she helped design). Years after graduating, many of her students still sing her praises and note what an excellent teacher she was. She was known for teaching mathematical card tricks and then exploring the algebra behind the “trick.”
“I love teaching and creating new courses,” she said. “I have loved math since I was a child. I used to do my older brother’s math homework until our parents found out. I strive to give my students that same love for math that I have.”
Contact: Valerie Orleans, firstname.lastname@example.org