Four math faculty members each holding a social justice textbook in front of them
I’m thrilled with our mathematics faculty’s commitment to problem-based learning, because their approach will equip our students to make real civic contributions as a result of their Roosevelt education. Bonnie Gunzenhauser, PhD Dean, College of Arts and Sciences

(Math faculty authors, left to right: Melanie Pivarski, Steve Cohen, Wanwan Huang, Wilfredo Urbina-Romero)

Several members of the Roosevelt University mathematics faculty teamed to contribute to a new classroom resource – Mathematics for Social Justice: Resources for the College Classroom – recently published by the American Mathematical Society MAA Press (2019). Professors Steve Cohen, Wanwan Huang, Melanie Pivarski, and Wilfredo Urbina-Romero co-wrote three different modules. 

Prof. Steve Cohen and Prof. Melanie Pivarski wrote “Modeling the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill.” This six-part module is employed in integral calculus courses and introduces students to how calculus can be used to describe the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. There are a variety of sources of oil leaks in the oceans annually, and students are able to better describe the scope of the leak following the explosion. Students work together in groups to compute the amount of oil spilled and to use areas, volumes, sums, piece-wise functions, and differential equations to model the problem.

Prof. Wanwan Huang co-wrote “Modeling the 2008 Subprime Mortgage Crisis in the United States” with former Roosevelt Prof. Barbara Gonzalez. This seven-part module is used in financial mathematics courses. Affordable housing, home ownership, and predatory lending practices are covered. Students work in small groups to investigate the causes of the crisis by selecting a different subpopulation to study (racial group, socioeconomic group, etc.) and then using the financial mathematics knowledge learned in class to analyze the mortgages of their subgroup.

Prof. Wilfredo Urbina-Romero co-wrote “Using Calculus to Model Income Inequality” with Gonzalez. This six-part module is designed for second-semester calculus students. The social justice goal of the module is to study income inequality via the Gini coefficient (developed by statistician and sociologist Corrado Gini in 1912). Students work together in small groups to research the Gini coefficient and its applications to the study of income and wealth distribution of different populations.

Melanie Pivarski, associate professor of mathematics and chair of the Department of Mathematics, Economics and Actuarial Science, stated “this book is a resource for colleges and universities nationwide to apply mathematics to understand social justice issues. Three of the fourteen modules in the book were developed by our own faculty and have been used in our classrooms here at Roosevelt.”

Roosevelt is proud to be a part of the national movement led by the Mathematical Association of America and the American Mathematical Society to include social justice materials in college and university mathematics teaching. This new text also connects well to Roosevelt’s work with SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities), a national project focused on empowering faculty and improving STEM teaching and learning by making connections to civic issues.

“Through this invaluable work, our mathematics faculty are connecting our students not only to key trends in math education, but to the larger national conversation about how to use academic disciplines and the tools they offer to solve “grand challenges” – the thorny social problems that require deep thinking from across the disciplines to develop effective and sustainable solutions,” says Bonnie Gunzenhauser, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “I’m thrilled with our faculty’s commitment to problem-based learning, because their approach will equip our students to make real civic contributions as a result of their Roosevelt education.”

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