Dale Hoffman on Community College Students

DaleOffice2010When speaking at the 2015 Washington Two-Year Mathematics Conference at Campbell’s Resort, Lake Chelan, I met many wonderful people, including Dale Hoffman of Bellevue College (formerly Bellevue Community College), who agreed to send me the following inspiring chronicle of some of his past students:

Since Bellevue College is open-enrollment, we see an incredible range of students.  Some have been academic failures their entire lives and some are just using Bellevue College as a stepping-stone to elite universities and technical careers.  I think this diversity makes it interesting.

Some of my memorable students.

1. 20-something Hispanic male.  Parents disowned him when he came out as gay in his late teens.  Spent a couple years couch-surfing and working menial jobs.  Tried a couple community colleges but dropped out. Was at the top of the class in my Calculus III and IV classes, graduated from the University of Washington with honors in neurobiology.  Joined Teach for America and is applying to medical school.

2.  Late 20-something black man.  Was working full-time as a fireman and EMT and taking classes aiming for medical school.  Top of the class in Calculus IV.

3.  30-something woman.  Was married and growing organic crops in California when her 10-year marriage ended unexpectedly.   Came to Bellevue to stay with her father and took some classes for fun.  Top student in Calculus II and IV.  Graduated from the University of Washington in Computer Science and with high honors in mathematics (just because it was fun).  Works at Microsoft.

4.  Late 20s.  Major HS activity was her boyfriend.  They married and when their child started school, Cindy started taking classes at Bellevue.  Good A- student in Calculus I and II.  Earned a bachelors degree in Computer Science at the University of Washington.

5.  Late 20s, 4’s friend and study partner.  Worked the midnight to 8 AM shift stocking groceries.  Graduated from the University of Washington and teaches AP calculus at a local high school.  Students tell me she is tough.

6.  Late 30-something nurse.  Made money selling a medical patent and came to BCC to follow her passion to be an astronomer.  Hard-working student in Calculus I and II (great role model for the younger students), graduated from the University of Washington in astronomy.  Set up a scholarship at BCC.

7.  Early 20s.  Had a band in high school and wanted to be a rock star.  Realized after several years of working in a print shop that the band was going nowhere.  Came to BCC to take some math classes.  After finishing all of the calculus courses with top grades he was seduced by physics.  Was a top graduate in physics at the UW and got a PhD in physics from Princeton.  Now a professor at a very-selective private college and is editor of a national physics journal.  Contacted me several years ago beginning You probably don’t remember me ..   But I did remember.

8.  20-something.  Got a job at an aerospace company right out of high school as an engineering tech.  Specialized in inertial guidance systems and trained the newly hired engineers.  Realized the people he was training made 3 times his salary so he came to BCC.  Earned an Electrical Engineering degree at UW, stayed at his company and made a lot more money.

9. 16 year old high school drop out – he didn’t fit in hs.  First generation college student.  Took the entire calculus sequence at BCC, worked overtime at the bicycle shop to save money for the Budapest Semester.  Degree in mathematics from UW, another degree in Computer Science.  Works at Microsoft.

High School students taking mathematics at Bellevue.
These would have succeeded without community colleges but we helped them along.

10.  Stanford BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering.  In a conversation with her grad school advisor, she is really smart, even by Stanford standards.   Works in San Francisco for daVinci Robotics doing medical robotics.

11.  BS in math at MIT (was also accepted at Harvard and Princeton), now in the doctoral program in math at Berkeley.  Honorable mention in the Putnam.

12.  Degree from Cal Tech.  She is now in the doctoral program at Stanford in Ecological Systems.

13.  Degree in math from Duke.  Elected as the student representative on the Duke Board of Trustees.  Masters in Statistics at Harvard.

14.  BS and MS in Computer Science from Stanford.  Now a VP of product development at a Silicon Valley start-up.  Honorable mention in the Putnam.

15.  Degrees in mathematics and economics from the University of Chicago.

16.  BS and MS in engineering at MIT.  Now in the doctoral program there.

17.  BS in engineering at Harvey-Mudd.  Now works locally in computer science.

18/19.  Harvard and Wharton in finance.  Now work for big east-coast firms.

10.  17 years old at BCC.  BS in math and philosophy at the UW, PhD in math at Dartmouth.  Now chair of a university mathematics department.

International students:  Many great math students come to Bellvue to bring up their English proficiency before transferring to a university.  One Multivariable Calculus class of 37 students had students from 19 different countries who had 17 different first languages (including a couple African languages I had never heard of).  Bellvue has students from 60 foreign countries, mostly Asian, middle eastern and eastern European.

Veterans:  I’ve had several veterans who began with beginning algebra and 9 quarters of mathematics later were in Calculus IV.  Not top students at that level, but algebra to multivariable calculus in three years takes lots of hard work and grit.

More: I have also taught the lower level algebra classes with lots of first-generation college students, single mothers, people in drug and alcohol rehab programs, and people with lots of other personal issues.  Many really nice people trying to get an education, but with very difficult lives.

Faculty: Even our math faculty have some interesting stories.
Berthe’s Jewish family had to leave Egypt in 1956.  After a couple years in Europe the family came here, she studied at Bellvue, got a masters in math at the University of Washington and joined the BCC math faculty.  Now retired, but endowed a math scholarship here for women.

After the revolution Tony left Iran by mule over the mountains to Turkey and then to a camp in Europe.  Took classes at Bellvue, got a masters in math at Western Washington State University and joined the Bellvue math faculty.

Larry (the MC at the conference) was a high school drop out who then worked menial labor jobs for a couple years (even spent a week in jail in Salt Lake City as a 17-year old vagrant).  Started at a community college, finally earned a PhD in math at the University of Minnesota and joined the Bellvue math faculty.

We also have tenured math faculty from Korea and India as well as part-time faculty from several other countries including a Jewish fellow from Russia with PhDs in math and physics.

And lots of bright young full-time faculty, our future.

 Dale Hoffman of Bellevue College received the Pacific Northwest Section of the Mathematical Association of America Distinguished Teaching Award in 2011 and the Washington State Two-Year College Mathematics Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014. He has a new free online calculus book.

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