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Seattle University


Inspiring Young Minds

Written by Hannah Hepfer
December 6, 2010

This fall saw a pivotal moment for the College of Science and Engineering when it named Leanne Robertson the first Sister Kathleen D. Sullivan Endowed Professor of Mathematics.  The professorship honors Sr. Sullivan’s lifetime work to increase both the interest and aptitude of mathematics, science and computer science in young women and underrepresented minorities.

Robertson was a natural selection for the professorship.

“Leanne has an enthusiasm for mathematics that is infectious,” says Michael Quinn, dean of the College of Science and Engineering.  

Robertson’s passion for motivating students to get excited about math is right in line with the spirit of the professorship’s namesake.  Sullivan started Splash!, a four-week summer math and science program for middle school girls from diverse backgrounds.  The program ran for 15 years and had more than 500 participants and many went on to pursue careers in math, science and the health professions. The professorship is the first for the College of Science and Engineering in over a decade and the first ever dedicated to outreach.  

 “The (professorship) is important because it allows us to continue our tradition of mathematics outreach to the Seattle community with the goal of increasing the number of students who pursue higher education in mathematics, science and computer science,” says Quinn.

Robertson partnered with the Seattle University Youth Initiative (SUYI) to implement math enrichment programs for the students at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School and Washington Middle School.  92% of the students at Bailey Gatzert qualify for free or reduced lunch, which indicates they are either foster youth or their families are at or below the poverty level. 

“Many young people, particularly underrepresented minorities and youth living in poverty, get turned off from math during elementary school,” Robertson says. “But in today’s technical world, math empowers people by opening doors to many careers.”

For the pilot year of Robertson’s program, the Seattle University Math Corps (SUM Corps), she has enlisted the help of seven energetic SU students who want to share their love of math with children. Robertson trained the SU students in the public school’s math curriculum to prepare them for facilitating small group instruction to students who are at various levels in math. 

Robertson stresses that the overall goal of SUM Corps is to not only raise the interest level and math achievement of the students but to provide the SUM Corps students a significant way to make a difference in our community and contribute to the mission of the university.

The students lead a variety of enrichment activities including before- school online math games, small-group instruction during class, after-school programming, and a math game night.  The SUM Corps program is flexible enough to allow future recipients of the professorship to build on and modify the program.

Sr. Sullivan is pleased with Dr. Robertson’s selection for the professorship and the work she has done thus far.

“Leanne is a fantastic role model,” says Sullivan.  Whatever someone wants to do, she’s done it.  She manages to balance her family, teaching, research and helping the disadvantaged.  It’s amazing how well-rounded she is.”

Hannah Hepfer is programs coordinator for the Center for Leadership Formation in the Albers School of Business and Economics.