Behrend Lecturer Travels to Nairobi to Present Research Work

By Heather Cass
Publications Manager, Penn State Behrend

Peter Olszewski

Peter Olszewski, lecturer in mathematics

 

 

The adage that two heads are better than one is certainly true at universities where faculty members often collaborate with colleagues on research projects. Sometimes, the partners sit a few offices away from each other. Other times, they are a several states away. Occasionally, they are on the other side of the globe.

Such is the case for Peter Olszewski, a lecturer in mathematics, whose research partner, Dickson Owiti, is 7,600 miles away in Kenya.

Olszewski and Owiti met at the Joint Math Meetings conference in San Diego in 2013 and realized they had similar research interests.

“We are both interested in how math education should be set up at the high school level to adequately prepare students for the transition to college,” Olszewski said.

Olszewski said he appreciated and recognized the assertive tone that Owiti took in his work.

“We are very similar in that way and I thought we’d work well together,” Olszewski said.

Owiti agreed and the two began a joint research project surveying their first-year students and teaching them effective study skills.

While you might think two countries would have different problems, Olszewski said math students in Kenya struggle in the same ways students in the United States do, namely transition problems from high school to college, and a lack of strong algebra and trigonometry skills, and too many modern distractions.

In June, Olszweski traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, to join Owiti and present their findings at the Strathmore International Mathematics Conference. They shared three papers and led a workshop on researchable problems in mathematics education for undergraduate mathematics education students.

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Owiti and Olszewski

“Both Owiti and I gave the students some ideas of current topics they could use in their senior research projects,” Olszewski said. “Our suggestions were well received; they loved our ideas.”

Among their top findings: High school teachers are not using homework effectively and are giving students lots of the same work, rather than challenging them to problem-solve through critical thinking; students are not being taught how to study (something they will need to do in college); and they are often looking at improper sources for more information, i.e. YouTube, Wikipedia, etc.

“We are seeing two major trends,” Olszewski said. “Students are not using equal signs correctly and they are not making connections between concepts; they are cramming for assessments and not looking at the big picture.”

While in Kenya, Olszewski also got an education of a different sort.

“My mother traveled with me as she had always wanted to visit Africa, and we went on a safari in the Nairobi National Park,” he said. “It was really wonderful, but it turned a little gruesome when we witnessed a lion killing a water buffalo calf.”

They also toured an elephant orphanage and a giraffe sanctuary, where things were a little more upbeat.

Olszewski and Owiti are polishing up their research paper now and are looking forward to their next project, which they have already been invited to speak about at the next conference in Nairobi in 2019.

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Noce to be honored by Boys and Girls Club of Erie

By Heather Cass
Publications & Design Coordinator, Penn State Behrend

Dr. Kathleen Noce, senior lecturer in Management Information Systems, grew up in a warm, loving home that was a haven for neighbors and friends in need.

“My mother was that woman in the neighborhood who all the kids knew they could go to for a meal, a hug, a few dollars, even a couch, if they needed a place to stay for a night or two,” Noce said.

Noce said her parents noticed early on that she, too, was a nurturer.

“They saw that I enjoyed helping others and they really encouraged me to do it,” she said.

It makes sense, then, that Noce would end up in a helping profession, educating college students in the finer points of MIS and business.

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But her service to others extends beyond the classroom and into the community, where she serves on several boards and volunteers for a variety of nonprofit organizations, including Boys and Girls Club of Erie which plans to honor Noce on Oct. 19 with the Woman and Youth Award, the highest honor the organization bestows on volunteers.

Noce has been a board member and volunteer at the Boys and Girls Club of Erie for more than twenty years. In addition, she has helped the club with many of its technology needs through Partnership Erie, a nonprofit outreach center of the Black School of Business that provides web design, web marketing, and content management services for free.

The majority of the work is done by students in MIS387 Website Design and Administration who are learning to design and manage websites. It’s a win-win: nonprofits benefit from the tech help and students get hands-on experience working with real clients.

Since Noce established Partnership Erie at Behrend in 2001, students have built more than 125 websites for a variety of nonprofit organizations.

“I realized I could incorporate an element of community service into my coursework, while also giving students the benefit of real-world work experience.”

Noce concedes she had an ulterior motive in forming Partnership Erie.

“I wanted students to learn about the enormous challenges that some people face,” Noce said, “and I wanted them to become good citizens who give back.”

It worked, even inspiring some students to take on personal volunteer projects for their clients outside of the classroom. She regularly hears from alumni who thank her for introducing them to the personal satisfaction to be found in helping others.

In addition to Boys and Girls Club of Erie, Noce volunteers at the Quality of Life Learning Center, the Islamic Center, Butterflies for Kids, Erie Youth Leadership Institute, and the Italian-American Women’s Association, in addition to other organizations.

In twenty years working with the Boys and Girls Club of Erie, Noce said she has witnessed firsthand the powerful impact of community service.

“Sometimes, you’ll see these kids come in and the deck is stacked against them,” she said. “They have parents who are largely absent or have substance abuse problems. They are living in poverty. They’re hungry. And you think, ‘This kid doesn’t have a future.’ But he starts coming to the club and there are people there who care about him and help him and watch out for him and he comes out a different person.”

“I’ve worked with kids at the club who I thought had a bleak future who have become doctors, teachers, and lawyers,” she said. “because somebody cared and provide a safe place for them to grow and learn.”

Noce is grateful for the opportunity to serve.

“I’ve led a blessed life,” she said, “so If I can help someone in need, my life is richer and I feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose for being here.