Dr. Tracy McGrath usually commences her math classes by rapidly jotting something down on the white board and saying, “Okay, this is what we are talking about today." Meredith Monroe and her classmates rush to copy McGrath’s writing. Then McGrath begins asking questions and the students sit, a bit dazed. McGrath slowly walks the students back through the steps and carefully explains each point.
McGrath received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago in Geophysical Sciences and her masters from Princeton University in Geological & Geophysical Science. She also has a Ph.D. from Princeton University in Geological and Geophysical Science and did a graduate fellowship with NASA. Her parents both have Ph.D.’s from the University of California Berkeley, her mother in psychology and her father in math. McGrath was inspired to study the internal dynamics of glaciers after listening to a lecture in college. McGrath also speaks French, German, Hebrew, English, and Dutch. “What hasn’t she done?” Monroe says, laughing.
Having professors that excel in their field and love investing in students makes the hard work worth it for Monroe. McGrath helped one of her students, Daniel Fierer, prepare his grad school application to study at the University of St. Andrews. She has also provided life and career advice for her students. Because Patrick Henry College is primarily known for its Government, Strategic Intelligence, and other degrees in the humanities, Monroe says many students forget about its mathematical capabilities.
“We are a school that does everything excellently, even mathematics,” Monroe said.
The classroom feels less like a lecture and more like a conversation. It is small, with only a couple of students who, according to Monroe, find this environment extremely conducive to learning. Students are comfortable stopping McGrath to clarify confusing points. Additionally, around thirty minutes of class is spent discussing the connection between their mathematics studies and theology. Occasionally, the class has “Storytime with Dr. McGrath,” as Monroe puts it, when McGrath shares tales of the adventures of her life.
“We got a lot of math done but also normal conversation and mentorship, too,” Monroe said.
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