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Faculty Excellence Chris McCauley September 27, 2022

Lauren Wickman on the UAB campus, trees and colorful plants behind her.For Lauren Wickman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Mathematics, calculus is far more than numbers and equations.

“What I want to get across to students is that you have to know calculus if you’re going to understand the universe at all,” said Wickman.

Hence why she is pursuing a mission to make “Calculus I” more accessible for UAB students. Currently, she is working closely with faculty members in the Department of Mathematics to develop and implement new curriculum that ensures more consistency (and engagement) in all “Calculus I” classrooms.

The new curriculum includes pre-written notes and worksheets. Wickman created these resources so students can engage with their professors and fellow classmates and not focus on copying down comprehensive notes during class. Wickman believes this approach will create more opportunities for “inquiry-based, hands-on learning.”

“We want to encourage students to see math as this thing that is to be discovered…and that’s it’s still growing,” said Wickman. “The way to learn math is you have to do it—they say math is not a spectator sport.”

Wickman uncovered her interest in inquiry-based learning during her time with the UFTeach Program at the University Florida. Through UFTeach, Wickman majored in mathematics and minored in education and developed skills that would later help her in the classroom. After completing the program, she taught math in high schools in both Palmetto and Sarasota, Florida, and saw the benefits of creating an engaging classroom environment.

“[It] helps them discover math the way it’s meant to be,” said Wickman.

Although she enjoyed teaching high school students, she also wanted to deepen her knowledge of mathematics by pursuing a terminal degree. So, with that in mind, she reenrolled in the University of Florida and earned her Ph.D. in Mathematics.

“As I was getting my Ph.D., I was really learning more about what it meant to be a real mathematician and how it’s more than just, ‘Here’s the formula plug it in,’” sad Wickman.

After earning her Ph.D., she explored career opportunities at universities that emphasized both research and teaching. That exploration eventually led her to UAB.

“The research that they do here—that was the one thing that jumped out to me. I like the community of research that they have,” said Wickman. “I am also really into teaching, and [the department] has a big emphasis on teaching.”

She arrived at UAB in Fall 2022 and immediately started coordinating the new “Calculus I” curriculum. In addition, she has identified more opportunities to use technology in the classroom—specifically, online graphic calculators. By doing so, Wickman and her fellow faculty members are ensuring students can visualize their work.

“Calculus is a very visual subject, so you need to see pictures of the graphs at all times to have any idea of what’s going on,” said Wickman. “They’re starting [with a] conceptual understanding before we get into the procedural understanding and notes.”

As she continues to make “Calculus I” more accessible, she also hopes to build a community for mathematics at UAB. In the future, she is interested in establishing an Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) chapter at UAB. AWM’s mission is to “create a community in which women and girls can thrive in their mathematical endeavors, and to promote equitable opportunity and treatment of women and others of marginalized genders and gender identities across the mathematical sciences.”

“I hope to create a community… that encourages people to do math without making it seem like it’s just for credit or just for putting on a resume,” said Wickman. “It’s a fun and enriching thing to do. It opens your mind.”

Although Wickman is still in her first semester at UAB, it’s clear her approach will influence the ways in which students (and faculty) view mathematics—both inside and outside of the classroom.

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