Mathematics Professor – Lisa Grossbauer
Lisa Grossbauer is an Instructor of Mathematics at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pennsylvania. Like a growing number of people in the teaching profession, Ms. Grossbauer’s arrived in the teaching profession after pursuing another professional pathway. For fifteen years, she worked as an Aerospace Software Engineer at Lockheed Martin Corporation. Midway through her career, Ms. Grossbauer decided to switch career tracks and take up a teaching position at Ursinus College where she simultaneously completed a Secondary Education Certificate in Mathematics. Recognizing that many students struggle to acquire strong skills in mathematics and statistics, Ms. Grossbauer has since dedicated herself to developing pedagogical innovations in both fields. She is also an active member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Association of Teachers of Mathematics of Philadelphia and Vicinity.
Tell us about the journey through your career, how did you end up working in Mathematics?
I attended Villanova University for my undergraduate degree in mathematics and my graduate degree in Applied Statistics. After 22 plus years, I returned to the classroom for my secondary education certification in mathematics at Ursinus College.
Where do you currently teach and which grade and subject do you specialize in?
Currently, I am a mathematics teacher in higher education at Ursinus College. I typically teach Calculus I & II, and Introductory Statistics. I am also a mathematics representative for the education department where I will participate in methods classes, mentor students, and observe math student teachers. My passion is math education so I am involved in many mathematics initiatives to help improve our teaching and learning of mathematics. I am a participant in an NFS grant called TANGO: Stat Ed, which is working towards improving the teaching of introductory statistics through pedagogy changes. Additionally, I am actively involved with the local arms of the NCTM and Pa. Statistics Teachers Association which provides opportunities for teachers at both the secondary and higher ed level to exchange ideas.
Unrelated but nonetheless a teaching role, I am involved with Family Partners at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. My role includes visiting cohorts of first year medical students to bring to life my experiences as a parent of a son with multiple disabilities. I represent the hospital on many different initiatives including grand rounds teaching videos, parent stakeholder neurology grant, stroke clinic, and new employee orientations. This position is entirely volunteer basis and has given me the opportunity to “give back” to an institution that has given excellent care to my medically fragile child.
Why become a teacher?
My story is not a traditional story by any means nonetheless I call myself a teacher. Truly, I had no interest in a teaching career throughout my undergraduate work. I was more interested in working in industry; specifically, I wanted to pursue a career in the aerospace industry. When I was a young girl, I wanted to become an astronaut but fell a bit short on that goal; however, the aerospace industry got me close enough to satisfy the itch. I spent 15 years as an aerospace engineer working for Lockheed Martin Corporation where I performed requirements analysis, design, development, testing and documentation of software applications in support of research, and engineering for the aerospace industry. I was responsible for the technical directions of all phases of software development for a challenging algorithm on a large program. I enjoyed my time in industry but motherhood was calling me. I walked away from a very successful career to begin another chapter in my life, one worthy of my full attention and dedication. I found myself in the informal role of teacher that every parent will encounter. While teaching my own children mathematics, I realized that a spark was ignited in my belly. When my youngest child entered kindergarten, I began as an adjunct teacher of mathematics at Rosemont College while simultaneously enrolled in a secondary education program at Ursinus College. After student teaching in our local district and achieving my secondary education certification, I filled in for a semester at Ursinus as an introductory statistics teacher. I fell in love with the Ursinus community and never looked back, faith had put me in the place that I needed to be. Gratefully, I am in my third full time year at Ursinus College. I hope to close the final chapter of my working career devoting my energies to our students and the area of math education.
How many hours do you work each week?
I’ve never really dwelled on the amount of time that I put into my teaching career because it isn’t just a job for me but rather a mission. So I actually had to pause here and do some quick calculations on a piece of paper. During an academic year, I will spend on average 75-80 hours a week engaged in lesson preparation, grading, meeting with students, producing support videos, answering student e-mails, advising, observing student teachers, and fulfilling the miscellaneous needs of the department and college. Oh my, that number frightens me somewhat but I don’t feel as though I am neglecting my family in any way since my children are at the age where their lives are full with their own school work, work, sports, extra-curricular activities, and volunteer work. I feel that my life is in balance.
Summers are much lighter on average 30-40 hrs a week but my work continues through building new initiatives for teaching, department meetings, and grant support when needed. I spend this time dedicated to my family since they aren’t involved in their sports, school work, volunteer work, plays etc. We happily play together during the summer.
Exploring your work life, can you tell us what a normal 9-5 day looks like for you?
I am an early riser so I begin my day at 4:15 am where I check e-mail before heading to the pool for a swim workout. My students will often e-mail questions well beyond my bedtime so I will often answer them before heading to the pool. I am a mother of four children so the early morning hours are spent getting them ready for school. I will arrive at my office by 7:45 where I work for an hour before teaching my 9:00 class. I teach from 9:00 to 12:00, then. return to my office to meet students. I will typically see students every 30 minutes until I leave at 3:30 to meet my own children at the bus. I generally eat lunch while chatting with students very rarely leaving my office in the afternoon. The “golden family time” for me is the hours of 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. when I give full attention to my own children. After 7:00 pm, I generally settle back down into my work until about 10:30 or 11:00. During that time, I will be preparing lectures, answering e-mails, and grading. It is a busy day but a very rewarding day. Until I started teaching, I never fulling understood the time commitment required to do the job well.
What gets you excited about your job and why?
Mostly everything about my job excites me! If I had to choose a couple of areas I would say advising/mentoring students and improving math instruction. My goal is to always put the students first. If you think of them as instruments of the future then you will happily throw all of your energies into helping develop them as good people with the above listed skill set. Advising and mentoring students allows me to bring my personal experiences from industry into the equation. I bring something different to the table for my students and they generally recognize and search for this. One of my major career goals is to improve the math experience for all students at all levels of education. I believe we as a society have failed to ignite a passion for mathematics often killing any interest early on by neglecting to provide engaging instruction with real world applications to back them up. We need a grass roots movement to fire up the interest level in our elementary schools. We will not affect societal change unless we collectively take action to make our corner of the world a little “mathematically” better.
On a scale from 1 – 10, how hard was it to get to where you are now? Was it worth the journey?
Goodness, it is hard to quantify my journey because it was indirect. It was necessary for me to take a curvy path to teaching. This is where I interject a bad math joke; thankfully, I am able to integrate that curvy path to measure the distance. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I suppose I would put it at an 8 only because it was no picnic to reenter the academic world at 44 years old. I remember sitting for my praxis exams sympathizing with our over tested students and wondering if my speed at processing was going to cut it. It is satisfying to prove to yourself that you still have the right stuff !
The one thing would you like to see changed in your field?
The AP system. I believe that we are pushing down too much material on the secondary system and the result is that we are producing anxious students that are weaker in the fundamentals. We need to firmly walk before we run; strong algebra BEFORE calculus. Yes, we do have a handful of students who are developmentally ready for more challenging mathematics but those students are few and far between. Instead we have created an environment that allows for too much pressure to achieve “AP” status without truly being ready. Students are made to feel mathematically inadequate if they haven’t achieved a seat in a AP section. Ease up already and let the students develop a love and respect for the art in mathematics without shoveling material onto their desks. Just maybe we will see a rise in national math scores!
What aspects of teaching are the most rewarding?
I hope that I will continue to enjoy the smiles on the faces of students who achieve their dreams and that they are still willing and excited to share their successes with me.
Characteristics you think allow someone to thrive in this career?
Many characteristics come to mind with no specific order of importance: kind, resilient, empathic, good work ethic, dependable, engaging personality, dedicated, innovative, positive attitude, quick on your feet, creative, good problem solver, risk taker, excellent communicator, team player, inquisitive nature, planner, and good listener. As I’m writing these characteristics, I realize these are the same characteristics that I sought in new hires for industry or if listing characteristics of modeling “good parenting” for CHOP.
Advice you would give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Be open to the opportunities that life will present. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable; it is in these uncomfortable moments that you are learning. Never stop being a student even though you might think you are a teacher. If you become disenchanted, it is time to move on to another career before you inflict damage on a malleable spirit. You should mindfully take the Hippocratic oath before entering the field of education.
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