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Iskander Kapkayev

College: Macaulay Honors College | Brooklyn College
Awards: Math for America Fellowship, 2014

Preparing Kids for Calc

“I had a pretty rough history with math in elementary school,” recalls Iskander Kapkayev. “A lot of the questions were too hard, but there was something about math that attracted me and I kept coming back to them. I got a lot of help from my mom, who I thank to this day.”

Kapkayev (Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College, 2014) graduated with a bachelor’s in mathematics and won a rare Math for America Fellowship, which prepares talented graduates to teach math in New York City’s public secondary schools. This highly competitive award pays for a master’s in secondary math education at City College. It also provides a $100,000 stipend over five years in addition to the regular teacher’s salary to encourage recipients to stay in teaching during the demanding initial years of teaching, when attrition is highest.

Born in Uzbekistan, he immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 4. Two older brothers graduated from Brooklyn College as business majors; his younger sister follows him at Macaulay-Brooklyn this fall.

He says he’ll remember his experience as an initially reluctant, but then eager, math student when he teaches. “By the time I got to high school, I realized that math came much easier to me than to most people. I know how much some hate it and, because of that, a lot of teachers avoid critical things. In college precalc and calc, professors say students can’t do problem-solving. I won’t be a tough teacher, but I want to build their mathematical foundation.”

The small High School of Economics offered only the first of the Advanced Placement (college-level) calculus courses, so Kapkayev took the second course as an independent study.

He says he was “shocked” that Macaulay accepted him. “I didn’t have the greatest grades in high school. I was a pretty slacking type of student. Macaulay picked me up for math, and I’m totally grateful.”

In college math, “You don’t see most of the things you learn in high school, like applications focused on the real world. If you see numbers, you’re lucky, because courses use the alphabet. I’m a big fan of number theory and theoretical mathematics, but,” he adds with a laugh, “I don’t want to go into them too deeply because I might lose my sanity.”

Kapkayev is particularly indebted to mathematics professor Kishore Marathe, whose specialties are differential geometry and theoretical physics, with special interest in gauge field theories and gravity. “But in the math department he was also a tremendous force in real and complex analysis. Under him I learned an impressive amount of both. These courses are difficult to understand, since they are not that intuitive.

He used Macaulay’s Opportunity Fund to pay a stipend during his two-year internship at the Hope Program, a nonprofit in Brooklyn that combines social, vocational and educational services. “It gives a second opportunity to dropouts, people who went to prisons, people who had a hard life.” He taught clients to use software like Word and Excel and helped prepare them to take the GED examination for a high school equivalency diploma. “They needed a lot of math help.”