Destinations include Stanford, UC Santa Cruz

To Brenda Perez, math is essential to everyday life.

“I like how you can relate everything to mathematics, one way or another,” said the senior from Salinas.

“And what I like most is its challenging nature. Sometimes problems take hours to figure out. And when you do, you feel great.”

Add her love of teaching –– “I always knew I wanted to teach” ­–– and you’ve got a math teacher in the making. 

The teaching part was clear early on. Not so with the math part.

She entered CSU Monterey Bay without knowing what subject she would study. Then she learned that math teachers are in high demand, talked with department chair Dr. Hongde Hu and declared herself a math major with a teaching concentration.

She’s driven to teach by the realization that many students struggle with the subject. “As a country, we are falling behind in math education, and underrepresented students like me have the lowest math scores in the country,” she said.

Her hard work and near-perfect grade-point average have paid off.

Perez has been admitted to the prestigious Stanford Teacher Education Program. Her year of study will lead to a master of arts in education and a preliminary teaching credential. Classes start in June.

To help pay for it, she has received a Leonore Annenberg-Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, which includes a $30,000 stipend. The fellowship commits her to spend three years teaching in a high-needs secondary school. During that time, she will receive intensive mentoring.

She’s quick to credit two people who influenced and inspired her, one a faculty member, the other her supervisor.

Professor Hu was her academic adviser. “He guided me throughout my education, provided tutoring jobs for me and helped me obtain various scholarships to support my education,” she said.

CSUMB’s California Mini Corps coordinator, Eva Silva, was her supervisor during the nearly three years she spent working for the corps, a program that employs college students to tutor migrant children. It also provides valuable experience for future teachers.

“Eva has taught me so much about teaching and meeting the needs of our students. She was my mentor and teacher, and has truly been an inspiration to me,” Perez said.

Jazehel Jimenez and Karen Martinez have much in common with Perez – both are from Salinas, started CSUMB in 2009 not knowing what major to pursue and ended up in math. Both are headed to graduate school.

Dr. Hu encouraged all of them to select the secondary teaching concentration, and helped them find opportunities to tutor or work as teaching assistants.

Jimenez, who has a 2-year-old daughter, has been accepted to the master’s degree programs at UC Santa Cruz, Stanford and USC. Stanford has offered her a $20,000 fellowship. She hasn’t decided which school to attend.

“I first need to determine which program will benefit my daughter, as well as me,” she said.

Martinez has been accepted into the master’s program at UC Santa Cruz and USC. She chose to attend UCSC.  

Watch a video interview with all three students by the Salinas Californian.