Cal State Fullerton mathematics educator Roberto Soto knows firsthand the need to support students from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
A first-generation college graduate himself, Soto has developed innovative teaching practices in precalculus and calculus courses with low success rates and persistent equity gaps to help students succeed in college mathematics. He also leads statewide professional training programs for faculty members in novel, student-centered teaching techniques.
For his work to transform teaching and learning practices, Soto, assistant professor of mathematics, is among the recipients of California State University’s 2020 Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award.
This year, 25 faculty members across the CSU, including his CSUF colleague Archana McEligot, professor of public health, are being honored for demonstrating extraordinary leadership to advance student success, particularly in courses or areas with traditionally low success rates or persistent equity gaps.
“Roberto teaches his students much more than just calculus. He teaches them to see themselves as professionals, to work to their full potential, and to uplift and inspire each other as a community of learners in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. This is truly what a college education is meant to be,” said Alison Marzocchi, associate professor of mathematics who nominated him for the award.
Soto’s former student, Roberto Hernandez, a Class of 2020 graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics-pure mathematics, relayed that Soto creates a classroom environment that encourages student engagement and collaboration.
“Dr. Soto redefines what it means to be a professor and a mentor,” said Hernandez, who began the doctoral program in mathematics at Emory University this fall. “He genuinely cares about the well-being of his students and is always available for support. His ability to bring people out of their comfort zone so that they may take advantage of research, financial and networking opportunities is the reason most of his students go on to pursue master’s degrees or doctorates in mathematics.”
Soto’s colleagues also praised his faculty professional development workshops that have resulted in improved student success in precalculus and calculus courses, which historically have high failure rates, especially among women and underrepresented students. His workshops also help instructors transform their teaching practices to be more evidence-based and equity-oriented.
In an effort to expand innovative practices among mathematics faculty nationwide, Soto and Marzocchi have partnered with a network of 12 other universities across the country as part of the “Student Engagement in Mathematics Through an Institutional Network for Active Learning” (SEMINAL) project, funded by the National Science Foundation. The project’s goal is to better understand how to implement and sustain successful, equitable and inclusive active learning in undergraduate mathematics classes, and how to influence similar transformations at other institutions across the country. The CSUF mathematicians also are collaborating with CSU campuses and local community colleges.
“I cannot think of a more deserving candidate for this award. Dr. Soto’s local and national leadership and approach to professional development are a model for all of us,” said Chris Rasmussen, professor of mathematics education at San Diego State University and a principal investigator of the SEMINAL project.
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