College: Lehman College
Adding Up the Language of Math
Josué Cordones had always thought about teaching, and “when I started reflecting on which teachers stood out the most for me and had made the greatest impact, the teachers who always came to mind were my math teachers.”
Cordones (Lehman College, B.A. in mathematics, summa cum laude with departmental honors, 2013, and Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society) is on a path to become a great math teacher. He is one of only 17 students from across the nation to receive the extraordinarily competitive $100,000 Math for America (MƒA) Fellowship.
This five-year program supports outstanding mathematics students who commit to teaching in New York City’s public secondary schools. Winners get part of the stipend while earning a three-semester master’s degree in secondary mathematics education at City College of New York and during their first four years of teaching, in addition to the regular teacher’s salary. This long-term payout is designed to retain new teachers during the most stressful first years in the classroom, when attrition is highest.
The MƒA program provides a rich clinical training experience to prepare fellows for the rigors of the New York City classroom. MƒA also offers mentoring and professional development, since a lack of support is a key factor in decisions to quit teaching.
MƒA is a privately funded nonprofit organization that operates in seven U.S. cities. The 2013 winners include another CUNY graduate, Razia Khan (Queens College, 2013), along with graduates of Brown, Columbia, Georgetown, Haverford, U.C.-Berkeley and other leading colleges and universities.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Cordones and his family came to New York when he was 3 or 4 years old. He grew up in Harlem, went to public schools and enjoyed playing basketball for relaxation “but not for the past four years, since I’ve been studying,” he adds with a laugh.
Cordones pursued automotive training while at Alfred E. Smith Career and Technical Education High School but always was in the academic track.
“Automotive was not my passion,” he says. Mathematics, however, “is a beautiful language. It describes a lot of things in life. I’m particularly interested in number theory and group theory and enjoy calculus, which is applicable math and is really cool.”
At Lehman, professor Melvyn Nathanson, who taught him linear and abstract algebra, “made me enjoy math. His way of teaching and lectures and his dedication to math opened my eyes. He really pushes you to think and enjoy the subject.”
He also credits assistant professor Robert Schneiderman (City College 1994), who helped him prepare for the two MƒA -required Praxis exams and advised him on his MƒA application. “Professor Schneiderman is why I’m in MƒA,” he says.
Speaking in late June, he said that he found his first week of master’s degree classes “intensive and different from what I did as an undergraduate. We’re looking at the sociological aspects of teaching as well as literacy and language in the classroom and differentiating instruction for students with different needs and abilities. I’ve already learned a tremendous amount about education.”
He says the program won’t get into actual teaching methods until the fall, when he and the other MƒA students will begin teaching in the public schools under the guidance of mentors.
He’s excited about getting to teach secondary-school students, such as he was not so long ago. “What better way to give back to your community than to teach?” he says.