By Andrew Shukovsky
Elm Staff Writer
The math department of Washington College is relatively small, but this year the department gained a few new faces. Among the professors joining the WC faculty is Professor Nathaniel Schwartz, who had recently completed the graduate program at North Carolina State University.
Schwartz grew up on a farm in Virginia, was homeschooled, earned a General Education Development degree, and attended Piedmont Community College. He attended community college to earn enough credits and experience, before moving on to attend a four-year college. He earned his associate degree in Applied Science from PVCC in 2005, a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2008, his master’s degree from North Carolina State University in 2011, and will be receiving his Ph.D. from NC State in winter of this year.
Schwartz also describes how he worked his way through most of his schooling to pay for his tuition, with some support from his family.
“I don’t feel special because of that, but I do feel like you don’t hear that story very often,” he said. “Hopefully some students will hear about my story, and they’ll think ‘you, too, can be a professor!’ My parents told me I could be anything I want to be. I don’t think I ever completely believed it when I was a kid, but looking back, I’d say there’s some truth in that.”
Schwartz found out about this opportunity from former WC math professor Dr. Rebecca Jayne. The two shared a few classes at NC State and knew each other fairly well. The math department at WC was originally looking for two professors, but when Jayne resigned just recently, a position opened for a third. Schwartz received notice of the job from Jayne and applied.
“My goal was to come to a college where I could focus most on teaching,” he said. “And I thought a small college would be the best setting for that. Not only is the small class size beneficial to students, but as a teacher, it’s much easier to teach. It works both ways. And when I visited here, I fell in love. Chestertown is great.”
Two months into the semester, Schwartz said he is enjoying the start of his career. “I feel really comfortable here. I really enjoy my classes. I really want to stay here.”
“The students are very friendly and approachable, and care a lot about their education, just as I care,” he said. “It really makes my day when a student asks me ‘Well, what about this? Can we spend some more time talking about this?’”
Currently, Schwartz teaches Differential Calculus and Discrete Mathematics. His differential classes consist mainly of freshmen, while his Discrete Math classes consist of mainly upperclassmen that are mainly computer science or math majors.
“He likes to give us a lot of examples and have us work in groups,” said Laura Prengaman, a math major whose thesis Schwartz is advising. “Which is really good because then we talk to each other, bounce ideas off each other. He really understands and works with everyone to make sure they understand what’s going on. He likes to challenge you, and it’s okay if you don’t meet it, because he’s there to help.”
“I think the stigma is that math is something you’re either good at, or you’re not good at, and I’d like to remove that,” Schwartz said. “I think math is something almost anybody can be reasonably good at. I’d like to convince my students that they have the ability to be proficient in math. My goal is to convince you that you can do this. Once I can convince you that, I think the rest will be easy.
“My message is to anyone taking a math course is try to come into it with no preconceived ideas; try to approach it with a new start, and have confidence in yourself. I want for people to be able to tell less horror stories about math, and to start telling more success stories.”