High school math teacher finds a community of support in online master of mathematics program
When Sarah Pigman started the online Master of Mathematics program, she did not know if she would be able to complete it. However, with hard work and the community of support she found in the program, she learned that she was fully capable of being successful; it was just confidence that she needed.
I have developed a lot of skills as a result of going through this program. One of them being persistence. There were times when topics were really challenging, but going to office hours, asking my professors for help, and reaching out to classmates helped me be persistent and get through the content.— Sarah Pigman, Online Student, Master of Mathematics
Online flexibility needed as a mother, wife, and math teacher
Sarah Pigman is a full-time high school math teacher, a coach for the school’s mathematics team, and a mother of three children, ages 3, 7, and 9. To say Sarah is busy is an understatement. When she decided to pursue a Master of Mathematics degree, she knew finding the perfect fit would be imperative to her success. Sarah and her family live in McHenry, IL, about 60 miles west of Chicago, so she explored local programs.
Sarah explains, “There are programs in Chicago but having to travel for class was not an option for me, so I needed an online program to make it work with my family’s schedule and my work schedule.”
Once she realized she needed a program that offered the flexibility she needed for her demanding schedule while maintaining academic rigor, she started to search for online programs outside of Chicago. Then, she found the online Master of Mathematics (MM) degree at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
“I was looking for a master’s in mathematics that was offered only online, and I loved the idea of presenting a portfolio for graduation completion,” Sarah shares.
The UT MM program offers students the ability to build a cumulative portfolio during the degree’s 30 credit hours. This portfolio highlights students’ achievements throughout the program and provides concrete examples to share with potential employers.
Finding confidence and community
Once admitted into the program, Sarah’s first challenge was her confidence.
“I started the program not knowing if I was smart enough to complete this program because I have never been the smartest person in my class,” Sarah says.
It wasn’t easy, but she developed a level of persistence she didn’t know she had. When topics were challenging, she utilized her professors’ virtual office hours and reached out to them when she had questions.
“I was nervous at the beginning about getting help if I was struggling, but after the first semester with my classmates and the professors, I knew that was not going to be an issue,” Sarah remembers.
The students in the online MM program are from all over the country, but that didn’t stop them from building relationships with one another. Sarah says they shared phone numbers and emails with each other, even adding each other on social media to get to know one another on a deeper level. Additionally, professors gave them ample opportunities to work together in breakout rooms during synchronous classes.
“I loved the community that is built in the MM Program; it really is a community,” she reiterates.
The community of students is one of the MM Program’s strengths, but the relationships students build with faculty members are also an essential aspect of the program.
“Dr. Anne Ho has been an amazing support system as an academic advisor. She has helped me decide which electives to take and make sure I graduate on time. She has also helped me when I was struggling with classes as well. The professors, in general, are very helpful.”
With hard work and the support of the online MM community, Sarah developed stronger mathematic skills. She notes, “A specific math skill that I developed was that of writing proofs. I have never been strong at proof writing, but through the proofs course and analysis I feel much stronger with my proof-writing skills.”
Advice for future MM students
Sarah offers some advice to prospective and newly enrolled students, “Go to office hours. In some classes, I went every week for the entire hour, and it was so helpful. Office hours have been one of the most beneficial supports that is offered, having that small group setting to ask specific questions has been extremely helpful.”
Sarah acknowledges that the program is challenging, especially the workload at times. She says, “With being a full-time teacher and having children at home, it can be difficult to remember all the deadlines and get assignments started before teachers’ office hours in order to ask questions. But setting calendar reminders has been a huge help in managing my time.”
She also reminds new and future students to build and grow their community in the program.
She encourages others, “Do not be afraid to make friends with people in the program.”
With only two classes left in the program, Sarah aspires to teach dual enrollment classes offered at the high school where she teaches and summer mathematics classes at her local community college. Before enrolling in the online MM program, Sarah wasn’t sure she’d have the confidence to achieve these goals. But today, Sarah has renewed self-confidence.
I feel much more confident about my knowledge of mathematics and will be so proud to say I have a Master of Mathematics.— Sarah Pigman, Online Student, MM program