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Michael McDonald

College: City College
Awards: Math for America Fellowship, 2012

Counting on the Future

Michael McDonald thought he wanted to study architecture when he started at City College, but he quickly gravitated toward mathematics education.

"I'd done private tutoring and found it rewarding, so why not translate that to the classroom?" he says.

He soon made two friends in an undergraduate teacher-training program at the college, his 2012 classmate Yekaterina Garmash and Mallory Torres Villa, who was one year ahead. As they moved toward BS degrees in mathematics with a concentration in secondary education, they set their sights on the $100,000 Math for America (MƒA) Fellowship. This highly selective, five-year program is for outstanding mathematics students who commit to teaching in New York City's public secondary schools.

"To be honest, I wanted it really badly. I never wanted anything more,” McDonald says. "As excited as I was to win the fellowship, I was even more excited that all three of us made it into the program."

A fourth CUNY student, Umussahar "Sahar" Khatri of Queens College, joins them in the cadre of 22 New York City Math for America Fellows.

They will receive a full-tuition scholarship for a master's degree in secondary mathematics education at City College of New York, which replaces New York University and Bard College as MƒA's host institution. Other incoming MƒA students earned their bachelor's degrees at schools including Boston, Bucknell, Northwestern, SUNY-Stony Brook and Wesleyan Universities, Carleton College and the College of William & Mary.

MƒA, a privately funded nonprofit that operates in seven U.S. cities, switched to City College because it wanted a partnership with a public university in New York. MƒA has said it was impressed with City College's math and math education faculty and secondary math education program.

MƒA and CUNY are designing a three-semester master's program that is tailored to mathematically sophisticated students. MƒA fellows will complete their degree during year one of the five-year fellowship. The program's goal is to provide clinical training to prepare MƒA fellows for the rigors of the New York City classroom.

But more than a specialized master's program separates Math for America from other organizations that encourage people to go into public school teaching. In New York, MƒA fellows receive a $30,000 stipend in the first year and $70,000 paid over the next four years, when fellows teach full time and earn a teacher's salary.

This hefty stipend is an incentive for fellows to stick it out through the difficult first years of teaching, when attrition of inexperienced teachers is highest. MƒA also provides mentoring and professional development during the five fellowship years; studies have shown that the lack of support is a key factor in decisions to quit teaching.

McDonald says that since the fifth or sixth grade, he knew he was "pretty good in math." In college, he took classes in abstract algebra and non-Euclidean geometry - "things that I won't necessarily teach in a middle school or high school classroom, but it's good to know these things are out there. If I could ever integrate them, I'd have the knowledge base to build upon."

Born and raised in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx, McDonald went to public and Catholic schools before being drawn to City College's honors program, which provided a full scholarship. During his undergraduate teacher training, he got to work with eight teachers at three schools. He also became president of the Aspiring Teachers Club.

"I would have become a teacher even if I hadn't been accepted into MƒA," he says, "but winning this fellowship has been a true blessing because I now know that if I struggle or am in need of assistance, the highly supportive staff at Math for America will be there to encourage and help me. I hope to inspire confidence and enthusiasm in mathematics in the coming generations of students and innovators. I am so grateful to both City College and Math for America for such an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."