UNM-LA Associate Dean of Instruction and Math Associate Professor Irina Alvestad, left, and Educational Partnership and Academic Support Planning Officer Audrey Marroquin Monday in the library. Photo by Kirsten Laskey/ladailypost.com
By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
Out of all the core subjects taught in schools, math is sometimes the most misunderstood. Its concepts can seem baffling, the long equations beyond comprehension and of course there is the age-old question that clings to the mind: where will I even need to use this?
Quite a few places, actually. According to a survey done by the New Mexico Public Education Department’s College and Career Readiness, there are specific skill gaps between what employers need and what potential candidates are qualified to do. And the skill gap at the top of the list is math.
The situation isn’t any brighter in the classroom, with COVID being a big culprit. According to a CNN report, the pandemic had a devasting effect on children’s education. Fourth and eighth grade students experienced the largest ever decline in math.
A lot of time and money is being given to rectify all of this and the University of New Mexico-Los Alamos (UNM-LA) is contributing to the effort with its math bootcamp.
UNM-LA’s Career and College Readiness Pathway program is offering math bootcamps. The camp is an accelerated step-up algebra program that can satisfy intermediate algebra prerequisites and serve as credit for several math courses at UNM-LA. It is held in-person for eight weeks. Upon completion, the Adult Education and Community Education students in the Career and College Readiness Program will receive a UNM-LA certificate of Completion from the Continuing Education Department.
Associate Dean of Instruction and Associate Professor of Mathematics Dr. Irina Alvestad explained that UNM-LA Mathematics faculty developed the bootcamp’s curriculum, which was contextualized to science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), humanities and social sciences skills/careers.
She added that the bootcamp, which started in the summer, keeps the class sizes small. The first session had seven students and the upcoming spring and fall sessions will offer two sessions for 12 students each.
The small class size is intentional, Alvestad said it helps provide personalized attention.
Educational Partnerships and Academic Support Planning Officer Audrey Marroquin, agreed, saying they wanted consistent teacher presence “to help ensure success in a nurturing environment.”
The bootcamp is open to anyone – whether it is someone in the Adult Education program, in the English as a Second Language program, aspiring to be a Certified Nursing Assistant or working to be a welder, Alvestad said.
Marroquin added that the certificate of completion to their employer not only bolstered the credibility of certain students but also facilitated career advancement opportunities for them.
“We’re really excited to continue it,” she said, adding it can be “a pipeline and a step up. Sometimes it is just a matter of getting those foundational things under their belt.”
The philosophy and the atmosphere of the bootcamp are really geared toward helping students succeed, Alvestad said.
“It’s important to look at what the employers need, what job skills are needed, etc., and what the students’ needs are as well,” she said. “Math is not always a favorite subject, but the faculty know what works and being empathetic also is extremely important.”
Marroquin added that no one is made to feel like an outsider. The camp fosters a community of learners.
Not only is the curriculum personalized to meet students’ needs but the camp shows students how math applies to real life, Alvestad said.
Real-world application is further cemented because the camp satisfies three of the six credit requirements to participate in the community internship collaboration (CIC) program, Marroquin said. They can receive $900, gain experience and job opportunities.
“Empowering students with essential math skills they need is not just about solving equations; it’s about unlocking doors for infinite opportunities,” Marroquin said. “The Math Bootcamp … is a testament to our commitment to student success, economic mobility and community enrichment. By providing a supportive and accelerated learning environment, we aim to bridge the gap and open pathways for aspiring individuals, fostering a legacy of success that resonates with our community.”
The math bootcamp is funded by the federal government’s “Good Job Challenge-WIN”, a subcontract from the New Mexico Economic Development Department, the Higher Education Department TANF IET Grant, and an award from the Regional Development Corporation, Marroquin said.
The camp is open to all, to register for the upcoming spring session, go to https://losalamos.unm.edu or call Marroquin at 505.663.3400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.