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MSA-to-Master’s is Quick Route to Mathematics Career

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – JANUARY 9, 2014 Thirty days after walking across the 2013 Fall Commencement stage to receive his Master of Science in Mathematics from The University of Texas at Brownsville, Jose Juan Vera will begin his new job as a mathematics instructor at UTB.

Vera will begin teaching college algebra and pre-calculus on the first day of classes for the spring semester, Monday, Jan. 13.

This 21-year-old’s journey to become a mathematics instructor began almost six years ago when his mother learned about a new school, the UTB Mathematics and Science Academy, where students combine their junior and senior high school years with the first two years of college taught by UTB faculty.

Jose Juan Vera

“To be honest, I wasn’t that thrilled at the idea of leaving Pace High School; basketball was kind of my life,” Vera said. “I thought, ‘Well, I’ll apply, and maybe I won’t get in.’ But I was accepted, and when we went to the orientation, I thought MSA looked like it would offer what appealed to me – a challenging environment with other students who felt the same way.”

Vera entered the second class of MSA, and he didn’t have to give up basketball. MSA had a sports club with teams that played intramurals at UTB. Vera was also on the MSA chess team and competed with other high schools; he later became an alternate on the UTB chess team, and continues to play in area tournaments.

Vera graduated from MSA with his Associate of Arts degree in May 2010. He accepted an offer to continue his studies at UTB as a University Scholar.

“I think I could have received scholarships at other schools, but I am close to my family, and I wanted to stay in school here,” Vera said. “This scholarship included tuition, books and housing, but I chose to live at home.”

Vera initially declared education as his major, thinking he would teach high school mathematics. However, when he heard about a program called the Mathematics 4+1 Program – that allows a student to fast-track through the bachelor’s degree and go straight for the master’s degree – he knew that was the route for him to take.

“I thought this was such a great opportunity, and I would be able to devote my studies to my interest in mathematics,” Vera said. “I was fortunate that I had support from my professors, especially Dr. Jerzy Mogiliski, [Chair, Department of Mathematics] and Dr. Paul-Hermann Zieschang, [Professor, Department of Mathematics], who introduced me to the theoretical part of algebra, which I found so appealing. He is such a smart man; I learned everything I know from him.”

Vera took both undergraduate and graduate classes with Zieschang, who was also Vera’s thesis advisor.

“I always found Jose eager to learn and well prepared for classes,” Zieschang said. “In the more advanced classes, Jose always went with a certain ease over even the most difficult topics of the material, so I was pleased when he decided to write his master thesis with me. It was about association schemes of rank 6, a very modern and specific subject in algebra.”

Vera shared his enthusiasm for mathematics by taking a campus job as a student tutor in the Learning Enrichment Center.

“I really enjoyed tutoring,” Vera said. “Some students would come in and be completely lost and have no idea what to do. I admire them for seeking help with Learning Enrichment; it’s a non-threatening environment where there is always someone available. It was such a good feeling when I worked with someone and then they would understand the concept, and you hear them say, ‘Oh, now I get it,’ and you know you played a part in helping unlock that door.”

Vera said he feels confident his studies at UTB have prepared him for his chosen career.

“I feel my studies here at UTB, including my two years at the Math and Science Academy, have given me a solid foundation,” he said. “My focus now is to do a good job teaching my classes, to learn more in my field, and in a few years I’ll be ready to apply for my doctorate. What university, I don’t know; but it will definitely be one with a specialization in algebra.”

For more information on the Mathematics 4+1 Program, contact Melissa De La Rosa at 956-882-6636 or melissa.delarosa@utb.edu.

For more information on the Mathematics and Science Academy, contact Brenda Valero at 956-882-5742 or Brenda.valero@utb.edu.

Students and parents are invited to attend a recruiting session to learn more about MSA on Saturday, Jan. 25 and Saturday, Feb. 22. Both sessions will take place at noon in Room 2.402 of Main. Parking is available across University Boulevard.

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