New ENcourage Engineering Math Program offers incoming students confidence

Taylor MacMahon will likely remember the week of June 21, 2021.

Live through an historic Pacific Northwest heat wave with 120-degree temperatures and no air conditioning? Yup.

Take a math prep class in the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering where she’s starting in the fall? Yes.

Taylor MacMahon, ENcourage Engineering Math Program participant and incoming fall 2021 CSU engineering student
Taylor MacMahon, ENcourage Engineering Math Program participant and incoming fall 2021 CSU engineering student

Make new friends through math class so college seems a little less intimidating? Yes!

MacMahon, from Bothell, Washington, was one of about 40 students who signed up for the college’s new ENcourage Engineering Math Program in June, a one-week intensive course to help students be more calculus-ready. Students learn practical applications of math in engineering, solve problems together, and hear from industry leaders about using math in their work.

The lessons were developed by Ellie Casas, a doctoral candidate in Atmospheric Science who taught the class with Jeff Shriner, assistant professor in the Mathematics department, with the help of undergraduate and graduate students in math and engineering.

Students can still sign up for the August class, which will be August 9-13.

For MacMahon, the program not only helped her confidence with math, it took the edge off the nervousness about college.

“College was always this big intimidating jump in my mind, but Colorado State University and all the people I’ve met through ENcourage have really helped me to feel encouraged, more excited and less afraid,” said MacMahon, who is going into engineering because she likes helping people, building things and being creative.

“Human connection is so good, important and powerful, it’s always been something that’s helped me a lot, especially with my mental health, and in feeling more grounded and excited entering into a new environment,” MacMahon said. “We were given challenge problems at the end of the day, and it took all of us working together, helping each other and encouraging each other to solve them. That was really cool. And makes me so excited for the coming year.”

Rebekah Barry, who enrolled as a first-year Chemical and Biological Engineering student, said she also enjoyed the breakout rooms the most during the class.

“It broke the ice and also allowed me to get to know other students that were going there,” Barry said, adding that she met her roommate who is in the same major. “It seems we get along very well.”

Taking the math classes now means she gets to spend more time on her science, said Barry, who is from the Denver area and has always loved chemistry. She’s particularly excited to show her new ENcourage classmates around Colorado, she said.

Rebekah Barry, ENcourage Engineering Math Program participant and first-year Chemical and Biological Engineering student
Rebekah Barry, ENcourage Engineering Math Program participant and first-year Chemical and Biological Engineering student

Barry looked at other universities, but CSU rose to the top, she said.

“Because of COVID, our sessions and learning about the schools were all online,” she said. “CSU did the best job of getting everyone engaged even though we couldn’t see each other in person.”

Even Casas, one of the graduate students who taught the ENcourage program, wishes she could have had a program like ENcourage as an undergraduate.

“My biggest regret from my freshman year (as an undergraduate) is that I was too shy to really embrace my meteorology department’s community,” said Casas, who is a doctoral student in Professor Michael Bell’s research group. “While I have made great strides in finding my atmospheric science community since then, I would have very much benefitted from a summer program where I got to meet my classmates before the semester started.” (Read the full interview with Ellie Casas).

At Casas’ suggestion, ENcourage leaders also created a Slack channel for ENcourage students where they can post questions, set up study groups, and support each other in their work on their math skills, said April Undy, who led the ENcourage program.

The ultimate goal is to help students succeed in engineering and stay at CSU, Undy said. ENcourage helps refresh and strengthen math skills so students move ahead in the pre-calculus math sequence of the math placement tool, and ultimately get to MATH160 (calculus) by fall or spring semester.

“This has been something that we have wanted to do for some time,” said Anthony Marchese, associate dean for Academic and Student Affairs. “Rachael Johnson, our manager of Strategic Recruitment Initiatives was awarded a prestigious NSF fellowship to focus on development of a summer math program, which ultimately became ENcourage. The incoming Fall 2021 class will be entering CSU with the pandemic having disrupted learning during the last year and a half of their high school experience, so this program is most likely even more critical this year.”

“The most exciting thing for me so far is seeing the students getting excited about engineering and CSU,” Marchese said. “These students have had to endure a very difficult situation with the pandemic, which has affected their lives in so many ways.”

MacMahon definitely appreciated the extra encouragement.

“ENcourage was an amazing engineering camp, and I got to meet some of my future classmates and build friendships. We learned so much, and everyone I’ve met has been so friendly and supportive. As an out-of-state student, I’m so grateful and excited to have had this opportunity to meet and connect with so many incredible students before the start of the year.”