Gail Tang does not underestimate her students and believes in challenging them by opening inquisitive class discussion and asking them how they got their answers as well as why they are correct.
Tang became assistant professor of mathematics this fall and currently teaches pre-calculus as well as Math and Society.
Tang, who grew up in New York City and Westchester County, New York, earned her bachelor of science degree in math from State University of New York at Binghamton and her master of science and doctorate in math from University of Illinois at Chicago.
She didn’t always plan on a career in math.
“In high school I applied to all art schools,” Tang said.
But her mom convinced her to not attend an arts school so she could experience a variety of classes.
She began college as a computer science major until she took a calculus class and decided math was her true passion.
“Everything fell into place,” Tang said.
When she attended the University of Illinois in Chicago, Tang became more involved with teaching by becoming a teaching assistant.
In Chicago, Tang was part of the National Science Foundation’s Scientists, Kids and Teachers program for which graduate students worked with inner city schools.
“We would bring the content to them in an interesting way,” Tang said.
Most of the young students she worked with there had problems at home where they often were responsible for themselves as well as their siblings.
Tang said. “It made me see how the education system really is.”
She realized how much pressure the education system puts on both students and teachers to succeed.
While at the University of Illinois, Tang took many theory course with professor Bonnie Saunders, whom she says she models her own teaching after.
Saunders made her students think and figure out the solutions, which is the way Tang envisioned teaching her own students.
“It just opened up my mind,” Tang said. “Someone thought like I do.”
Tang said she felt professors she met at ULV had a similar approach when she was interviewed here last year.
She she added that she liked the sense of camaraderie she saw among faculty, who she noted were sharing avocado and oranges from their trees when Tang came to interview.
Tang said she always wanted to work in a place that shared with the community as well as focused on students learning. She realized ULV was the place for her during the interview process.
In both classes she teaches Tang makes her students participate.
“I feel like my students come in with a lot of knowledge, and I ask them what they think,” Tang said.
Tang looks for ways to make her pre-calculus students understand the reasons behind her teaching methods, which is something they struggle to do.
“She doesn’t give us the answers, she makes us work to get it,” said Natalie Kalbakji, freshman biology major in Tang’s pre-calculus class.
“She has a good mindset, she just needs to develop it a bit more,” Kalbakji said.
Tang encourages class participation and has students work together to come up with solutions to situations or problems.
“Use your expertise to help somebody else,” Tang said to her pre-calculus class.
Team work is an important part of Tang’s teaching.
Tang sometimes makes students take quizzes in pairs so they communicate to each other in writing so she can see what kind of questions they ask each other.
“I feel that’s beneficial because sometimes you understand your peer better than your teacher,” said Howraa Alasker, pre-calculus student and sophomore biology major.
Tang believes students should not only think about their own concerns but also help peers that are falling behind in class and don’t fully understand the lessons.
“That’s an ideal attitude for students to have,” Tang said.
In the future, Tang hopes to teach upper division courses to students majoring in math.
Mariela Patron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.