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Yekaterina Garmash

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

A Fellowship That Really Adds Up

Take a girl from Ukraine, stir in some salsa, add a healthy dose of mathematics, simmer in an undergraduate teacher-training program, and you have a $100,000 Math for America Fellowship winner.

That's the recipe followed by Yekaterina Garmash - Ye-kat to her friends - one of four CUNY students this year to capture the highly selective, five-year MƒA program for students who commit to teaching math in New York City's public secondary schools. She and Michael McDonald graduate from City College in 2012; the others are their friend, Mallory Torres Villa (City College 2011), and someone they don't yet know, Umussahar "Sahar" Khatri (Queens College 2012).

"We are the three," Garmash said of her City College friends. "Knowing that we all got into Math for America together was the ice cream on our pie."

This year's 22 New York City Math for America Fellows 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 school. 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 and 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 the needs of mathematically sophisticated students. MƒA fellows will complete their degree during year one of the five-year fellowship. The program's goal is to provide a rich clinical training experience 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 also teach full time and earn a teacher's salary.

This 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 its fellows with 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.

Garmash said she was excited to win the fellowship. "I was nervous about the outcome because I knew the standards were high for this program," she said. "I was extremely happy and excited when I found out I was accepted."

During her undergraduate program, she got to see public school teachers up close. "Teachers burn out after a while," she said. "I love teaching, and I don't want that to happen to me. The professional development that MƒA provides gives you that push to make it more enjoyable."

She had liked math in high school and was surprised when the CUNY placement exam showed that she didn't have college-level skills. She took pre-calculus in a summer class before her freshman year, retook the test and was on her way to a major in mathematics education and a minor in mathematics.

"I love algebra and geometry," she said.

During her undergraduate training, she taught trigonometry, high school algebra 2 and middle-school integrated algebra.

Born in Ukraine and fluent in Russian, Garmash and her family moved to Washington Heights when she was 3, plunging not only into American culture but also into Dominican culture.

"In my neighborhood, there's one block with Russians, but it's not a young population, and I don't relate to them as much as to the Hispanic community," she said. "They've influenced me with music and dance" - indeed, she became president of the CCNY Salsa-Mambo Club - "and that might have been a motivation to teach in New York City, because I want to be here. I want to make this community even better."