Dr. Sadie Bragg, Senior Vice President/Provost of Academic Affairs and Professor of Mathematics at BMCC, is being awarded the prestigious American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges (AMATYC) award for 2010.
Actively involved in mathematics education at local, state and national levels, Dr. Bragg has served on committees including the Advisory Board to the Education and Human Resources Directorate of the National Science Foundation (NSF), where she served on the writing team for the NSF document, Shaping the Future. She also chaired the NSF report, The Integral Role of Two-Year Colleges in the Science and Mathematics Preparation of Prospective Teachers.
“I wasn’t really representing myself; I was representing two-year colleges,” says Dr. Bragg, who served as a president of AMATYC, was actively involved in creating AMATYC’s strategic documents, Crossroads and Beyond Crossroads, and has brought professional development to math instructors at the two-year college level nationwide, through AMATYC’s Project ACCCESS.
Bragg has also led two-year colleges into a global dialogue through the International Congress of Mathematics Education (ICME). Partnering with George Ekol, a math educator from Uganda, Bragg co-chaired the DG 23 Discussion Group and presented at the ICME conference in Monterey, Mexico in 2008.
Much of this work Dr. Bragg accomplished in concert with other math professionals, including Dr. Susan Wood, Vice Chancellor for Academic Services and Research, Virginia’s Community Colleges; as well as Dr. Marilyn Mays, Executive Dean, North Lake College; Philip Mahler, Professor of Mathematics at Middlesex Community College, Boston, MA, who nominated Dr. Bragg for this award; and Dr. Rikki Blair, AMATYC’s current Past President, all of whom, like Bragg, served on several national mathematics committees, such as the United States National Commission on Mathematics Instruction. “I sat on the shoulders of many giants,” she says. “We worked, and continue to work, as a team.”
Applying math to students’ lives
Dr. Bragg has co-authored over 60 mathematics textbooks for grades K-14. She recently completed a mathematics series with her high school author team, and is currently working with her colleague Dr. Geoffrey Akst on a developmental mathematics series focused on “applying mathematics to real-life situations.”
In another collaboration, Dr. Bragg worked with BMCC faculty to present the college’s 2008 Mathematics-Across-the-Curriculum/Quantitative Reasoning Conference. “I want to see math across the curriculum like writing across the curriculum,” she says, and she knows first-hand what that might mean.
“When I taught mathematics to respiratory therapy students, I used many applications about their discipline,” she says, “because students could do the algebra, but they couldn’t relate it to respiratory therapy. They didn’t realize the relationship between the gas laws that they were studying and logarithmic functions, or how the formulas in their chemistry class related to those in the math class.”
Doing ‘whatever it takes’ to help students succeed
As with many community colleges, one issue Dr. Bragg and the faculty tackle at BMCC is the large percentage of the incoming students who need remediation, in order to do college level math. Access to innovative, first-rate math instruction can make the difference, for these students, between passing or not passing the CUNY placement exams, or passing those tests— and becoming math majors.
“Pedagogy is as important as the mathematics,” says Dr. Bragg. “You must know mathematics and also be an innovative teacher to help the students succeed--both are equally important.” After the math department’s review, Dr. Bragg reviews the candidates and works with BMCC’s President, Antonio Pérez, who makes final hiring decisions, ensuring that each new faculty possesses the range of skills BMCC students need to succeed in mathematics.
Dr. Bragg also enjoys working with BMCC’s most academically outstanding students, through Phi Theta Kappa (PTK), Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), and other groups. “I want every single student to succeed,” she says, “and whatever it takes, I’ll try to do that.”
Interacting with some of the students at BMCC, Dr Bragg remembers her own days as a college student.
“I always wanted to know everything about everything,” she says. “My dad would say, ‘You ask so many questions!’ But that’s who I was--and that’s probably a little bit of who I am today, too.”
The young lady who asked so many questions eventually enrolled at Virginia State University, in her hometown of Petersburg, Virginia, and learned what might have been her first important lesson on pedagogy--that those who study in groups have an edge over those who do not.
“The first two years at college, I lived at home. Then, I realized what happens in dorms,” she says. “I went to study with a group and realized they always knew, collectively, everything--whereas I was isolated, studying at home. And that was when I convinced my parents to let me move on campus.”
The first two--of three--influential people
Inspired by a charismatic professor whose major was sociology, Sadie, the college student felt she had found her calling--or not, as it turns out. Her former high school math teacher, Miss Walker, called Dr. Rueben McDaniel, Virginia State’s Math Chair, and asked if Sadie Chavis was registered as a math major.
Dr. McDaniel relayed to Sadie, Miss Walker’s wish that she should become a math major, and she did just that. “Well, I was really obedient back then,” jokes Bragg--though she took her choice seriously. Dr. McDaniel guided her to a summer math program at Harvard, and nominated her for a Rockefeller Foundation grant, which she received to study mathematics as a post baccalaureate at Oberlin College, in Ohio. “Both Ms. Walker and Dr. McDaniel inspired me and supported my decision to pursue mathematics as a major,” Bragg recalls.
Becoming a teacher
“I used to tutor mathematics in college and liked helping my peers with their work, but did not plan on becoming a teacher,” Bragg says. “I did not go into mathematics education, but instead majored in pure mathematics. However, when I moved to New York (Syracuse), I started teaching eighth grade math, then high school algebra, followed by mathematics at Le Moyne College."
From Syracuse, Dr. Bragg came to New York City and began teaching at the New York Urban League Street Academy, the City’s first alternative high schools, where she taught algebra and geometry, worked as the assistant director of education, and traveled around the country assisting her students in getting into college.
Next came ten years at the Manhattan Educational Opportunity Center, where she taught college-bound students and chaired the College Bound Program, while earning a Master of Arts degree in Mathematics and a doctorate in the College Teaching of Mathematics, both at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Textbook writing and the digital path
“While earning my doctorate,” says Bragg, “the third influential person in mathematics entered into my life–-Dr. Bruce Vogeli, from Teachers College. I wrote my first book because of Dr. Vogeli.”
“In those days,” she says, “books were laid out with a lesson on one side, and the applications or the problem set on the other. Everything you wanted to tell the student or teacher had to be there--very strict. I couldn’t do that--I liked to explain too much!--and Dr. Vogeli would say, ‘No, Sadie, you have to stick to the page'.”
“Sticking to the page” has new connotations in the digital age, and today Bragg is exploring these possibilities for students at BMCC by integrating technology into the classroom through the “digital path”--online textbooks.
“If students miss something,” says Bragg, “they can go to this ‘Digital Path’, hit a button, access a video, and someone will tell them exactly how to do the problem. Of course, students still have their professors.”
A family person
Dr. Bragg says, “In addition to my professional life, my colleagues and friends – what I love and enjoy most is family. And of all the giants in my life, none has surpassed my parents, siblings, children, grandchildren, and most of all, my husband.”
A continuum of work
Exploring the future of instruction is just part of the continuum of Dr. Bragg’s work being recognized by the Mathematics Excellence Award, which will also be presented to her colleague Edward Laughbaum of Ohio State University, at the AMATYC annual meeting in Boston this November.
AMATYC provides a national forum to improve mathematics instruction in the first two years of college. With over 2,500 individual and more than 100 institutional members, the organization reaches out to educators through over 44 affiliate organizations.
“I have worked with a lot of people across the country from all the AMATYC affiliates,” says Bragg, “and it really is an honor to receive this award. I know the award; I presented it to someone, when I served as president of AMATYC. When you give this award to an outstanding math educator, you don’t think about yourself getting it, because you’re just doing what you love--working with your colleagues to help students learn and apply mathematics.”