Volunteer Spotlight: Tim Chen

Tim Chen Photo for BlogTim Chen started volunteering as a high-school freshman to explore possible career paths. By his junior year, he knew he wanted to teach math and started volunteering with Zeno. In the fall, he starts University of Washington, majoring in math, with plans to pursue a master’s of education. In an interview with Tim, we learned more about how Zeno is helping shape this math-powered teacher of tomorrow.

Zeno: What Zeno programs have you volunteered for so far?

Tim: The first program I volunteered with for Zeno was the summer math camps at both the Microsoft Store and Mt. Baker Community Club. Before leaving for the summer, I heard that Zeno was organizing an event called MathFest. I thought this would be another great opportunity to work with Zeno, so I signed up as a volunteer for MathFest in the Rainier Community Center. I also extended my volunteer experience with Zeno to a neighborhood elementary school, Beacon Hill International School, where I was able to help diverse elementary schools with math, as well as reduce the math education gap between diverse and non-diverse elementary schools.

Zeno: Your senior project involved researching the “achievement gap,” in which academic performance is lower for students from economically disadvantaged schools. What motivated you to research this topic?

Tim: As a student of The Center School, a requirement for graduation is to complete a senior culminating project. Students are asked to choose a social justice issue, research why the issue exists, and solutions to combat the issue. A major component in the project is the student’s action phase, where students choose to do something, such as volunteer or make posters, to help fix the social justice issue, as well as raise awareness amongst others. I originally was going to focus on helping elementary school students increase interest in math, but the idea lacked a social justice component, so I decided to focus on the math education gap between diverse and non-diverse elementary schools instead.

Zeno: How did you gather data?

Tim: I spent a good amount of time researching on the computer, picking out why the math education gap between diverse and non-diverse elementary schools exist. I compared diverse and non-diverse elementary schools geographically to see how racial segregation plays a part in the problem, as well as economically to see how economic segregation effect diverse and non-diverse elementary schools in the Seattle Public Schools and across the U.S.

Zeno: What did you find?

Tim: See my presentation! (Click here)

Zeno: Did you present this anywhere?

Tim: I presented this to my class of high school seniors, as well as a selected group of freshman, sophomores, and juniors. I also shared my presentation with members of Zeno, as well the teacher I worked with at Beacon Hill International School.

Zeno: From what you’ve seen and researched, what impact do you say Zeno’s camp had on a typical student from a diverse school?

Tim: While I was researching, I found out that diverse and non-diverse elementary schools were pretty segregated, as diverse elementary schools were located in poorer areas and non-diverse elementary schools were located in richer areas. This placed diverse elementary schools at a disadvantage, as they would lack the resources needed for students to succeed. I believe helping students at Zeno math camps, as well as my volunteer experience at Beacon Hill International School, has definitely helped diverse elementary school students because it provides them with some of the resources to help them succeed. Seeing them struggle with things in the beginning and then being able to master them at the end shows that the work I, along with Zeno, have done has been a success.

Zeno: What is your biggest takeaway from the whole experience?

Tim: Being able to volunteer with Zeno, as well as extending that experience to another school, has been such a wonderful experience and I thank Zeno for giving the opportunity to volunteer. I have been able to gain valuable experience, which I know will be beneficial for me in the future. Being able to learn from a teacher, be around students in a classroom, as well as actually doing some teaching myself helped be get just a glimpse of what my future holds for me. Most importantly, just being able to make an impact on students lives was the best part of volunteering, as it is the main reason for why I want to become a math teacher. Not only does it have an impact on students now, but for their future as well. Because more jobs today are requiring more STEM knowledge, getting kids motivated and interest in math at an early age will help them in the future.

Zeno: What is next for you? Will you continue to work with Zeno?

Tim: Starting in Fall of 2014, I will be a freshman at the University of Washington, looking to major in Mathematics. I also plan on obtaining a Masters in Teaching afterwards and begin teaching high school, or even college level, math. Although I might not have as much time to volunteer, I will definitely keep my eyes open for more opportunities to volunteer and work with Zeno in the future.

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