The following is an interview with Vasilica Marhao, who was winner of the 2014 Excellence in Teaching Award.
1) Where did you go to college and what was your major?
I was born and raised in Cluj (capital of Transylvania), Romania, one of the most important academic and cultural centers in Romania. Among other institutions, it has the country’s largest university, Babesh-Bolyai University, named after the Hungarian Mathematician Janos Bolyai.
I chose mathematics and science majors in the ninth grade, when I was accepted to a special high school located in my city. This was one of the top three high schools in communist Romania that was for mathematics and computers. We studied math for two hours each day, six days a week, all four years of high school. Being accepted by this high school was tougher than being accepted in the Department of Mathematics of the Babesh-Bolyai University, which followed as a natural choice.
When I graduated with an equivalent of an MS in Mathematics from Babesh-Bolyai, Romania had changed from a communist regime to a democratic one, and I became interested in counseling, a field nonexistent yet in my country. Therefore, I chose to get a second degree in counseling from Ashland University, Ohio when I moved to the United States. However my first love and interest remained teaching mathematics.
2) Why did you choose teaching math as a career?
Math came easy to me, but it was also one of the few majors untouched by communist ideology, so I went for it. The teaching profession was modeled for me by my mother. I watched her being an admired and loved educator who impacted many lives and I grew up wanting to be just like her in this respect.
After immigrating to the United States, I discovered the community college system, and I recognized the opportunity to use both backgrounds (mathematics and counseling) to adjust my teaching style to the diverse population that enters the classroom.
3) What is your favorite math class to teach?
My favorite classes to teach are Pre-Calculus and Calculus, with Calculus II being probably my favorite.