Class of 2023: Graduate uses opportunity of a lifetime to preach the power of math
Jacob Carter bristles at the idea that there are ‘math people.’
Carter, a graduating math major, aspires to teach Advanced Placement Calculus to high school students. He thinks the whole concept of ‘math people’ creates a false dichotomy: that there are math people and people who are not math people.
“A lot of people, when I say I'm a math major, immediately launch into this series of horror stories about terrible math teachers and of bright red ink marked all over exams,” Carter said. “I think a lot of that deep-seated frustration with learning mathematics actually comes from people's experiences in school and not necessarily with mathematics.”
Don’t get him wrong. Carter has had his fair share of challenges and setbacks in his pursuit of mathematical excellence.
He recalls the time he scored a 13% on a calculus exam in high school, and how it made him feel. But he also remembers the way his calculus teacher, Mr. Goldgar at Luella High School in McDonough, helped him understand that failing grade was not a reflection of his potential as a math student.
“He saw past that 13% grade to someone who genuinely loved math,” Carter said. “He saw someone that didn't just like math, because they were good at it, but because they were interested in it and had questions. That was exceptionally valuable.”
For Carter, math is a means of exploring the many wonders we encounter in the world every day. Math offers a way to decode the many symmetries and disparities that appear in nature and the built environment. It creates puzzles to be solved and ways to share experiences with others.
Wanting to share the confidence his teachers helped him develop, Carter has made it his mission to share his appreciation for math. During his time at Georgia College & State University, he is proud of the more than 230 hours he spent tutoring and the over 40 mentor relationships he’s started with honors students.
“I've had amazing professors and teachers, and I feel that if I just hold on to that information and don't pass it on, it kind of dies,” Carter said. “It's completely free for me to share it with others. Why wouldn't I? I think it would be a shame for me to hide all my tips, tricks and strategies for getting good classes on registration day and all the little things and the bigger things. I think the investment that professors make in you is in danger of going to waste unless you give it back.”
During his senior year, he got a unique opportunity to share his love of math.
Carter was one of nine speakers to share “ideas worth spreading” during the inaugural TEDxGeorgiaCollege. The event allowed members of the Georgia College community to talk about subjects they are passionate about in front of a live audience. The talks are video recorded and shared online for audiences around the world.
Carter has been an avid audience to TED Talks since he began looking for ways to develop his leadership potential as head drum major for the Luella High School Marching Lions.
“I specifically remember watching Benjamin Zander’s TED talk about “The Transformative Power of Classical Music”–it came across to me very powerfully, and I remember thinking to myself, I want to be so passionate about something that I can speak on that kind of stage,” Carter said. “So, when the opportunity came up, I was instantly like, ‘I'm hopping on this.’”
For his talk, “Everybody’s a Math Person,” Carter combined his formative experiences in high school, the lessons he learned tutoring and his belief that math is a pursuit that has intrinsic value for everyone.
“In the process of writing the talk and honing the idea, I was simultaneously honing my philosophy for how I think about things,” he said. “It made me realize that part of my role on this earth is to help make math fun and help bridge that gap between mathematics and everyday people. I really want you to believe firmly—like I do—that everybody is a math person. You just might not know it yet.”
Developing and sharing his ideas about math’s ability to uncover truths and help us better understand beauty pushed Carter to new realizations about the subject he’s been so passionate about all these years.
In that way, it was a proper culminating experience for this part of his educational journey and an indication of all that’s yet to come.
“I didn't do it because I love public speaking,” he said. “I did it because I really believe in this idea—that everybody is a math person. I feel like that is something I can share with the world—that’s something I can genuinely contribute to the public good.”
After graduating, Carter hopes to begin the Master of Arts in Teaching program for secondary education at Georgia College. Then, he hopes to get certified to teach AP Calculus at a high school in Central Georgia.