However you slice it, Math Ed Club embraced Pi Day

Associate Math Professor Ben VanDerLinden takes a pie in the face for the Math Ed Club on National Pi Day. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

Their plan was no pie-in-the-sky machination.

It, in fact, was baked up with a real goal in mind: Raise a few funds for one of the campus’ new clubs, the Math Ed Club, which is in its inaugural year of supporting the math education students who Grand Canyon University will launch into the world (GCU hopes to launch them in exponential proportions to try to meet the desperate need across the nation for skilled, qualified math teachers).

Club members added their fundraising proposition to the Promenade Thursday in honor of National Pi Day, hauling out a number of pies of a different ilk – strawberry rhubarb, pumpkin and even mini pies – along with brownies, cookies and more for a bake sale.

Samantha Longchamp of Vancouver, Wash., a high school senior visiting campus for a Discover GCU event, unleashes a pie on Discover GCU host Chaney Martin of Bakersfield, Calif. (Photo by Ralph Freso)

But the real star of the show: For just $3, students could throw a pie in the face of a math professor, six of whom volunteered to be the subject of students’ pie-ing.

Associate Professor Ben VanDerLinden, the chair of the Math Department, was the recipient of several pies in the face. He has been accosted by pies before on Pi Day, but this was the first year the activity was done for the benefit of the Math Ed Club.

With his grizzly tuft of beard covered in pie – actually shaving cream (this wasn’t his first rodeo when it came to pies) – VanDerLinden said he didn’t hesitate to bring a little attention to the club on National Pi Day.

“The Math Ed Club is the best club on campus with the best kids,” he said. “They’re the future of America.”

VanDerLinden bemoaned how America just isn’t at the top of the list when it comes to the math game.

Many have faced the facts: Americans stink at math.

“Math is very, very poor in America,” VanDerLinden said.

According to statistics from a May 4, 2018, article from U.S. News, the U.S. Department of Education’s 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress revealed that only 33 percent of eighth-graders tested proficient in math at grade level.

Here are a few more sobering numbers from that article: The U.S. ranked 38th out of 71 countries in math literacy on the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment and, out of the 35 industrialized nations that are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States sat in the bottom 15 percent, at No. 31, in math ranking.

On the plus side, VanDerLinden has hope that the future of America – namely his math education students – will change that grim outlook.

The Pi Day event on the Promenade on Thursday was organized by the new Math Ed Club. (Photo by Ashlee Larrison)

“These guys care,” he said, and will be at the forefront of the battle of molding the minds of the next generation of students.

During National Pi Day festivities, professors received about 20 pies in their faces.

Club member Olivia Garlick, a sophomore math education major, proudly wore her “How the Bell Curve Works” T-shirt and said she could recite pi to five places: 3.14159.

“I do love math,” she said. “But also, I want to serve kids.”

She especially wants children to also love math.

“Math gets a bad rap,” she said. “It’s hard, but you can still have fun with it. “

Samantha Longchamp, a high school senior from Vancouver, Wash., who was on campus for a Discover GCU event, paid her $3 to throw the pie in the face of, not a professor, but her Discover GCU host, Chaney Martin from Bakersfield, Calif.

“I felt loved,” he said about the pie-ing. “This is what I give for recruitment for GCU.”

Longchamp was enjoying her Discovery GCU Tour, and Pi Day, too. “I’m into algebra,” she said.

The Math Ed Club started meeting in the fall, and Vice President Ashley Paluck, a junior math education major, said funds from Pi Day will help students when it comes time to take their teaching exams -- and paying those exam fees -- before graduation.

“We hope to do this next year and make it an annual thing,” she said.

National Pi Day – on March 14 (or 3-14, the first numbers in pi) – was designated as such in 2009 by the House of Representatives, though Thursday also happened to be National Potato Chip Day, too, and the commemoration of Albert Einstein's birthday.

Pi was first calculated by ancient world mathematician Archimedes of Syracuse sometime around 250 B.C. In case you’ve forgotten from your math class, pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.

Pi Day celebrates not just pi, but math in general, and pie, too – apple, strawberry-rhubarb, pizza and otherwise.

Math Ed Club member Alexis Schelling, a sophomore math education major who plans to teach high school math, enjoyed the sunny afternoon on the Promenade celebrating National Pi Day.

“It’s just a fun, nerd day,” she said.

Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


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