In his Outstanding Professor Lecture given on March 12 at Cal State Fullerton, Bonsangue stressed the importance of math literacy, saying that being bad at math is no longer an option for students.
“In this age, we do not have the luxury of saying we’re bad at math. That is no longer okay,” said Bonsangue.
Bonsangue said the Outstanding Professor Award is given each year by CSUF to a professor who makes a file of their work and applies for the award based on the department chair or dean’s recommendation. After receiving a major National Science Foundation grant last year, it seemed as if Bonsangue’s time to be recognized was now.
The recognition came as a surprise to Bonsangue, who found out he received the award while teaching a class.
“Actually the way they did it for me… the committee kind of shows up in the middle of class … and President (Milton) Gordon was there to present this (award),” Bonsangue said.
Bonsangue’s lecture, “America’s Math Story: Where We’ve Been, Where We Are and Where We Could Be,” focused on his hope to unmask the irrational fear of math that some students have.
“Most people aren’t afraid to read, they aren’t really afraid of science, but they can be scared to death of math,” Bonsangue said.
While the fear of math may spread among students, math itself has remained relatively unchanged for over a century. During his lecture, Bonsangue showed the audience an algebra book from 1852 to show that the material is nothing to be afraid of.
“That curriculum hasn’t changed much in 150 years. Maybe the needs of the world have changed,” Bonsangue said.
While Bonsangue said he remains hopeful about our mathematical future, it’s the image of Finland’s educational system that he hopes rubs off on America’s schools. It’s a system that teaches everyone based on their individual needs, with little standardized testing, and the expectation that everyone is going to be competent.
Where America differs, Bonsangue said, is with its motivation.
“America is very competitive, and sometimes to its own detriment,” Bonsangue said.
Bonsangue’s lecture took a light-hearted turn when he pulled out his guitar and sang a song he wrote inspired by Barbie.
In 1992, Mattel introduced the Teen Talk Barbie. With the pull of a string, she would randomly say four out of 270 phrases; one of which was, “math class is tough.”
Instead of coming out with a Mathematician Barbie, Mattel decided to pull the phrase out of its computer after pressure from math societies and professionals. However, Bonsangue said Barbie has a valid point.
“Barbie’s got it right … math class is tough. So what? Anything worthwhile is tough. The question is will Barbie stay with it?” Bonsangue said.
Melissa Bowling, 22, a mathematics major, sees Bonsangue’s confidence and trust in his students as particularly helpful to her.
“He helped me by giving me a job. He also tends to believe in me more than I believe in myself. He has been very uplifting when it comes to my studies, and he has a lot of patience,” said Bowling.
For Bowling, there is no doubt that Bonsangue earned and worked hard for the award.
“I think he was given the award because he deserves it,” Bowling said. “He challenges his students, but really makes them understand material. He is encouraging and is also a really great teacher for students wanting to become teachers as well.”
Melissa Perez, 27, a former student of Bonsangue’s, said she remembers his class and teaching, and believes the title of Outstanding Professor is beyond fitting.
“I cannot think of very many other teachers who are worthy of the title,” said Perez. “Bonsangue has great passion and truly cares about his students and their success. His passion transcends to those students who are truly passionate about their education and future.”
As for Bonsangue, his teaching methods, passion and love for math have remained the same since he started teaching.
“I’ve taught for 36 years, and I always wondered when I started teaching, ‘What would it be like to be one of the old guys? Will you still really feel it? Will you bring it?’ Well, now I’m one of the old guys. I’m not quite sure how this happened, but I still have the same fire I did three decades ago,” Bonsangue said.