Fresno State’s Department of Mathematics is helping to reverse California’s shortage of math teachers in a number of ways.
The Integrated Math Program will introduce its first cohort this year, which will allow math majors to obtain their bachelor’s degrees and teaching credentials in just four years, speeding up the usual process by at least a year. The program will also provide support for the 17 student teaching scholars in the cohort as an incentive to join.
“California has a huge shortage of math teachers,” said Dr. Rajee Amarasinghe, chair of the Department of Mathematics at Fresno State, “and the Valley is impacted more than any other place in the state.” The Integrated Math Program was established to combat that shortage, to get strong math students interested in becoming high school math teachers.
Amarasinghe’s work on this and several other innovative programs — finding creative ways to solve problems and maximize resources — led to his being honored by the California State University Chancellor’s Office. He is one of 26 CSU faculty members who will receive 2018-19 Faculty Innovation and Leadership Awards, to be awarded by the Chancellor’s Office at the CSU Graduation Initiative 2025 Symposium Oct. 17-18 at San Diego State University.
This inaugural award recognizes outstanding faculty who are implementing innovative practices and have demonstrated leadership in improving student success at the department, college or university level.
The 26 recipients represent 21 of the 23 CSU campuses. Each campus can have no more than one winner, which can be an individual or a team of up to three members. Tenure-track faculty, tenured faculty and lecturers from all disciplines are eligible for this award.
“Dr. Amarasinghe has proven unfailingly that he can meet the most pressing challenges with creative solutions,” said Dr. Lynnette Zelezny, Fresno State’s former provost who is now president of CSU Bakersfield. Zelezny nominated Amarasinghe for the distinguished award.
Recipients must demonstrate innovative teaching practices, course design, redesign or the development of exemplary supplemental support programs to promote student success. Consideration will also be given to faculty who demonstrate extraordinary leadership to advance student success.
The Faculty Innovation and Leadership Award comes with a monetary prize, which can be used by the recipient’s department. Amarasinghe said the prize money will be used to enhance the innovative activities the department is spearheading.
“The current level of math skills among students, including STEM majors, and the general population is a major societal problem,” said Dr. Christopher Meyer, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Fresno State. “I view Rajee as a transformative national leader and scholar in addressing this critical issue.”
Another innovative program, Summer Academy, which Amarasinghe started as an experiment eight years ago, has grown from one class of 30 students that first year to five classes this summer — impacting about 150 students over week-long program. The Summer Academy has grown so popular that there was a large waiting list this summer.
The purpose of the Summer Academy in science, technology, engineering and mathematics is two-fold: the weeklong academy provides summer math enrichment opportunities for elementary, middle and high school students while giving teachers valuable professional development in teaching Common Core STEM topics.
“Our main idea was to show teachers how math can be taught in a creative and interesting way, not just by telling them, but by creating an environment in which they can put theory into practice, working with students who are attending the academy,” Amarasinghe said. In return, parents have a place where their children can obtain enrichment of their math skills over the summer with hands-on activities. Teachers came from as far away as the Bay Area and Southern California to take part in the Summer Academy.
Amarsinghe joined the Fresno State faculty in 2000 as an assistant professor. In collaboration with other departments and school districts, he has received more than $13 million in grant funding since.
Amarasinghe was also the 2018 recipient of the Provost’s Award for Innovation at Fresno State.
Amarasinghe’s innovative ideas and plans to improve student learning are best personified in his work on Executive Order 1110 that removed math remediation and required changes in the 2017-18 academic year, redesigning math curriculum to bring Fresno State’s quantitative reasoning general education math courses to compliance.
“Dr. Rajee Amarasinghe demonstrated creative leadership in working with math faculty to design a new math curriculum that meets student needs, Chancellor’s Office policy and Fresno State’s framework of limited physical facility,” said Dr. Xuanning Fu, dean of undergraduate studies, who worked closely with Amarasinghe.
Amarasinghe credits the department and University colleagues with the success of his efforts. “I am lucky to have a very energetic and supportive group of colleagues,” he said. “I have enthusiastic groups of faculty who are working on many initiatives to improve our programs and help students, including a lot of outreach activities to reach early our future generation of mathematicians.”