Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

New help desk adds up for math students

math center

Bethany Sewell, center, talks about the Math Center with Don Oppliger and Alvaro Arias. Photo: Chase Squires

When University of Denver writers get writer’s block, they go to the Writing Center at Penrose Library. But where do mathematicians go when things don’t add up?  

This month DU opens the Math Center, the latest addition to the Penrose Learning Commons. The Commons is the centrally-located block of important services on the library’s first floor that includes the Writing Center, the Research Center, the computer helpdesk and the main checkout desk.

Don Oppliger, director of the DU mathematics department’s CORE lab and resource center, says drop-in math labs are becoming increasingly common at universities. The idea is to offer an instant point of contact for math scholars struggling with a concept or problem. Putting a center together for DU was an effort that involved Penrose, the mathematics department and the Daniels College of Business, where students frequently wrestle with advanced courses such as calculus.

Staffed with graduate teaching assistants and stocked with text books and other references, the center will offer a lifeline to struggling students no matter their major.

“They can walk in here and there will be someone to help them,” Oppliger said, sitting in the dedicated corner of the library populated with long tables and surrounded by whiteboards. “There are a lot of times, especially early in a course, where students are really just feeling their way along. This is going to be very flexible.”

As opposed to writing, which often involves a long creative process and hours of fine-tuning, mathematics is more precise and dependent on practice and application of the right process, says Alvaro Arias, chair of the DU math department.

“We don’t want to solve the problem for the students, we want to help them solve the problem themselves,” Arias says. “But in mathematics, sometimes you can spot their problem very quickly, and it only takes a moment to point out where they went wrong and redirect that.”

Theresa Hernandez, assistant director at Penrose, says adding the Math Center is part of the library’s evolution. As students increasingly turn online for references, the library is adapting to meet their needs. That includes providing technical assistance, researchers trained in online and database mining and providing students with instructors who can help them make sense of the world of digital information. Adding a Math Center to compliment the Writing Center and other resources is part of keeping the library a vibrant center of learning for all disciplines, Hernandez says.

The center is expected to open in September. Hours at first will include afternoons and evenings, but those hours will be adjusted to meet student needs and could be expanded to meet demands around mid-terms and finals.

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