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Professor Brings Math Alive for NECC Students

Submitted by on July 8, 2011 – 12:28 pm

Nancy Nickerson has been Helping Students for 35 Years

Nancy Nickerson never intended to become a math maven, but some might say that is just what happened to this itinerant minister’s daughter who, more than 30 years after walking on to the Northern Essex campus, now refers to it as her second home.

It is here she created a niche – turning math phobics into math fans.

Teaching elementary school, not math, was on Nancy’s mind when she graduated with degrees in education and psychology from Barrington College. But facing a soft job market, she was inspired to earn a master’s in education research and statistics.

“I just wanted to teach. I didn’t care what I taught. I knew if I understood the information I could teach it,” says Nancy, who struggled as a student because of difficulty with language processing.

In 1976, while teaching adult education classes, she was offered a staff assistant position at NECC charged with creating an informal math lab where students could walk in and receive math help.

Since then, both Nancy and the math lab have evolved – she into a math professor whose students praise her sincere and gentle teaching style – the lab into a full-service math resource center that addresses the math needs of students taking both developmental and college-level courses.

Since 1990 she has taught math full time. Never one to hole up in her office, she can be found tutoring math students.
“I always chose to spend time with the students,” she says, and more often than not in the math lab. “I believe strongly in an overlap between math classes and the math lab,” she says.

Today, even though she teaches three classes and is pursuing an Ed.D., she still volunteers 20 to 25 hours each week in the math lab where students are quick to seek her out.
“I believe everyone can be good at math and with it comes confidence,” she says. Nancy customizes math problems. For the basketball player it might be a discussion of the arc of the ball on its way to the net.

“If it isn’t meaningful and useful, they won’t bother to learn it,” she says.

A champion of the underdog, Nancy says it is important to learn all the students’ needs, especially the hungry ones. She often serves up oranges with algebraic equations.

“It is important to feed their spirit, mind, and body,” she says. “I find it very fulfilling. I’m no one special. I’m just someone who loves her job and that is really all I need.”