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Joy in Life and Learning

The Ruth L. Gottesman Mathematics and Science Education Scholarship.

Rajwant Sandhu has a keen appreciation for the beauty and fragility of life. A biology major as an undergraduate with a nearly perfect GPA, she loved science and was preparing for medical school. The night before taking the MCATs at the end of junior year, Sandhu was rushed to the hospital with a heart attack. “It was totally unexpected,” she reports. One month later, she suffered a stroke. “It was kind of massive,” she states. “I couldn’t walk; I couldn’t write. My education just vanished, and I had to relearn everything, starting with the ABCs.”

 Sandhu worked hard to recover her physical abilities and lost knowledge. She also underwent a heart transplant, and two weeks later, registered to complete her senior year. “The world felt different to me,” she muses. “Now education is my passion because I saw how hard it was to regain what I knew. It’s very scary, what happened to me, but I think of it as a blessing. I’m here, and maybe I can make a difference with students, especially when they are having a difficult time. I can share my story to encourage them and to show that hard work pays off.”

 Sandhu is now in TC’s M.A. program for Science Education. She and Patrick Galarza, an M.A. student in Mathematics Education, are the first holders of the Ruth L. Gottesman Mathematics and Science Education Scholarship. Ruth Gottesman (Ed.D. '68, M.A. '52) has been a trustee since 1990 and is the lead benefactor who established TC’s Gottesman Libraries. An Emerita Professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, she has long heard medical school applicants say that their interest in medicine “all began with a wonderful biology teacher” or “with a wonderful math or physics teacher. There’s such a great need for teachers who can attract young people to these disciplines,” she says.

 Galarza agrees. “These are the sorts of things people are going to need to know when they move into the field of business, when they move into the field of engineering and different fields of science,” he maintains. “There’s also an important element of perseverance that says, ‘I need—I want—to figure out how I can understand this better and master this material.’ I think that’s pretty important too.”

 Like Sandhu, Galarza is enchanted by beauty, although his sensibility goes to mathematics and how it reveals the cosmic wheels and pendulums that make the universe go. “All of those things pour together nicely and have such elegant formations and relationships with each other,” he rhapsodizes. “It really blows my mind! It’s difficult, but I’m really drawn to the intrinsic beauty of everything.”

 When he was a boy, Galarza played video games like his friends. Because he had a fierce and geeky competitive streak, he wanted to optimize his play, so he kept a log of moves—attacks, defenses and outcomes—to analyze his performance. “There’s an underlying mathematical structure to these games,” he explains. “I ended up doing all these calculations—it was the kind of thing a lot of kids talked about, but I actually got my pen and paper and did it.”

 Since 10th grade, Galarza has been tutoring in math to pay the bills. He also taught weekend writing classes and SAT prep courses. “The feeling of really wanting to help people and see them achieve great results was something that definitely motivated me to become an educator,” he says. “I want to pursue teaching, and I want to pursue mathematics. If I can blend the two, why not?”

 After her experiences, Sandhu has found a secret joy in being alive. “Before my heart attack and stroke, learning was just memorizing information so I could get a good grade,” she says. “Now I know it has value.” She confides that she is stronger, more positive and more confident because of her struggle and wants to share what she learned about tenacity and grit along with the content of the curriculum.

 Galarza has found joy too, although his is more a species of wonder. “A lot of people say, ‘I wish I could be a student my whole life.’ I say, ‘Become a teacher because teachers are students too!’ This feels so natural to me. I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

(Published 2/3/15)

Published Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015


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