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Burrowing into Numbers: An Interview With Dr. Caroline Borrow

posted Jul 8, 2010, 8:17 PM by Glenna Buford   [ updated Jul 8, 2010, 8:18 PM by AWM Editor ]

2006 AWM Essay Contest: 
Honorable Mention in Grades 6-8 Category

by Kristin Ronzi

 To most, a math teacher is a mentor, someone who is in our lives for a short time and then moves along. However, Dr. Caroline Borrow breaks that stereotype. To her students, she is a leader, a teacher, and a friend. She is always willing to give up her time so a student can understand a problem.

Growing up in Bryan, Ohio, Dr. Borrow’s favorite subject was naturally math, partly because her father loved it and used it in everyday life. Through her elementary schooling, she breezed right through it, and her logic and process of understanding math was flawless. When she got into high school, the math began to get harder and more confusing. To her, geometry was not making any sense, and the proofs were just too complicated.

Living in a family of five children, there wasn’t much time to spare by her parents. Her dad was an engineer and was a big influence on her love of math at a young age. Even though her father was a very busy man, he still found time to sit down and help her with her homework and proofs. She passed high school and went to college, just as her father had hoped.

During her freshman year, while she was in pre-med, a tragedy struck her family. Her father had died. She remembered a day when he was helping her and he said to her honestly, “You would make a great math teacher.” That is what she eventually did. She changed majors and became a math teacher.

While an undergraduate at Ohio University, she took calculus. While taking a calculus test, the guy sitting behind her began to cheat off of her test. She realized this, but wasn’t exactly sure what to do about it. Should she tell the teacher or should she just let it go? After the tests were turned in, she went up to the teacher and told on the boy. “Being honest made me a better person, and who I am today,” she says, reminiscing about that day.

Going into a field in which not many women had taken interest, there were many people who discouraged her along the way. Friends and teachers were always telling her not to go for her doctorate, but her family was always one hundred percent behind her, supporting her in everyway possible. As one of the few women enrolled in a Masters program, the odds of success were not too good. However, she triumphed against all the odds and achieved her goal.

She decided to go out into the working world so she went to her Masters’ degree advisor for a job interview. While there, the phone rang with someone requesting a substitute teacher. Immediately Dr. Borrow was asked to do it, and she willingly did. She taught geometry there for eight years, but for some reason, her students were not getting the proofs just as she hadn’t when she was in high school.

So to fix this problem, she returned to college for one last time to understand how teens learn proofs. She was quite fascinated with the learning process that children possess. This subject is what she based her Ph.D. thesis on. She did a research project on how children do proofs. After earning her Ph.D., she decided to move back to Ohio to be closer to her family.

Earlier when she was at Ohio University, she’d met the man of her life and eventually they got married. Now they have two kids of their own, a daughter named Emma and a son, Jack. Even at home, she exercises her math abilities and works them into her children’s everyday lives. From making block buildings to doing chores, she incorporates word problems in her household.

She is currently teacher at Hathaway Brown School for Girls and at John Carroll University, teaching what she knows best, how children analyze problems. At Hathaway Brown School for Girls, she is teaching Algebra and Geometry using methods like “Project Problems,” sets of problems that make us think outside the box, and “I-can” statements which are similar to a study guide listing the parts of the chapter that we should know. She has contributed so much knowledge to her students and to the mathematics community between the proof research and the years she spent in college.

One of her current students at Hathaway Brown Middle School is Sienna Zeilinger who said, “Dr. Borrow makes math class so much fun, and she encourages us to think outside the box, which helps us in geometry. Her I-Can statements have really helped me. She knows how to teach us so that we can learn, remember, and apply those lessons. Dr. Borrow has taught me so much, but she's also really funny, and she always makes sure we laugh a lot in class. She's an awesome teacher, and I'm so glad I get to have her for another year.”

Her advice: “Take as much math as possible, both pure and applied. Don’t back down from a challenge. If you think you can’t do it, push yourself to try harder and try to make sense of the math. Don’t just memorize it, but really understand the gears of the problem.”

Now, there are probably more people out there in the world who have made more accomplishments to the math community, geniuses who develop the most complicated formulas. But to me, Dr. Borrow is all of that, a genius and an accomplished woman in the math community. If anyone asked me “why do you like math?,” I would reply without hesitation, “because it gives me a challenge and inspires me that women can pursue a field considered to be for males.”

About the Student:

My name is Kristin Ronzi. As a current seventh grader at Hathaway Brown middle school, I have big dreams for my math career ahead of me. After a couple years of having difficulty in math, I decided to change the path I was going on and I would always do math. In third grade I complete three courses of math, a feat nobody I knew had done. Currently, I am taking geometry under the tutelage of Dr. Borrow. I hope to achieve a degree in medicine when I go to college and to take as many math courses as possible. Thanks to Dr. Borrow and Dr. Patterson, the two math teachers I have had at Hathaway Brown, for placing some more building blocks into the castle I hope to achieve.