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Cherlyn Converse: Teaching Mathematics for 40 Years

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When Cherlyn Converse arrived to study mathematics at Cal State Fullerton, she was one of only a handful of female students in her classes.

“I actually had a scholarship to USC medical school but was on a waiting list,” she said. “I figured I needed to do something in the meantime, so I enrolled in the math program here at CSUF. I earned my bachelor’s in two years and was hired to teach math here.

“So instead of going to USC, I completed my master’s degree here. In 1989, I was awarded the ‘Forgivable Loan Doctorate Scholarship’ as the pilot person using lottery money to support women in math and science. At this point I went to Claremont Graduate University to earn my Ph.D. while continuing to teach at Fullerton.”

She has now taught on campus for more than 40 years. “I loved it here as a student and now I love it as I teach students.”

Converse had literally days to prepare to teach her first class as the original instructor was unable to teach.

“I remember getting the call on Friday asking if I could teach a class starting Monday,” she recalled. “My professors, who then became my colleagues, were so kind. They went out of their way to include me and I’ve never forgotten that.  I realized right away that teaching math was what I wanted to do for many years to come.”

Converse has taught at Fullerton College and Biola University, as well as Cal State Fullerton.  

Her doctoral dissertation and main area of research is in discrete mathematics with a secondary area of research in mathematics education.

Over the decades, she has helped develop several new programs, including math for liberal arts course where she created interactive modules the students watch online before coming to class.

“When remedial math classes were dropped for all CSU campuses last fall, there were still students who needed help, so we developed programs and corequisite courses to help these students,” she said. Converse also makes sure to post lessons and exercises online so students can review materials before class begins.

She also understands the need to get students involved in math even prior to college. She and her colleague 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. She has even taught a course called “Math Anxiety.”

Each year Converse is an invited speaker at the California Mathematics Council. She is a popular speaker known for teaching mathematical card tricks and then exploring the algebra behind the “trick.”

“I love teaching math and creating new courses,” she said. “And having colleagues who are so willing to share teaching tips on what — and what not — to do was so helpful, especially in the beginning,” she said. “I have always loved doing math and even did my older brothers math homework as a child; until our parents found out. I strive to give my students that same love for math that I have. “