GRCC’s Jeff Powers is first community college student to take first place in national math history writing competition

June 4, 2020 GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. A Grand Rapids Community College mathematics student is the first community college student in the nation to win a prestigious math history writing competition.

Jeff Powers’ paper -- “Did Archimedes Do Calculus?” -- won the 17th annual competition held by the Mathematical Association of America’s History of Mathematics Special Interest Group. The competition is open to undergraduates at both two- and four-year institutions.

In notifying Powers of the award, competition organizer Amy Shell-Gellasch, of Eastern Michigan University, noted that it was the first time the vote for first place was unanimous.

Powers is a returning GRCC student. He received an associate degree in 2010 from GRCC, where he was a tutor in the Math Lab, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northern Michigan University. 

“Because I’ve enjoyed tutoring for so long, I’ve decided to go back to school for mathematics to become a teacher,” Powers said.

He wrote his winning paper while taking MA 250 (Linear Algebra) and MA 259 (Differential Equations) this past academic year. He returned to his work as a tutor and presented several Mathematics Seminars to his fellow students, including one on Archimedes.

“I see the history of math as a rich area of interest that gives insight into why we learn what we learn in the math classroom, by explaining where our mathematics came from and also predicting where it is going,” he said.

Powers plans to take classes at Grand Valley State University this fall and eventually earn a master’s and doctorate, with a goal of becoming a math instructor at a college or university.

“In my classroom, I hope to incorporate the history of mathematics,” he said. “I believe that providing historical context during math lessons allows students to connect and engage more in learning, because they may better see that they are participating in what is ultimately a cross-cultural human endeavor that spans many millennia.”

Professor John Dersch is pleased that Powers’ experiences as a math tutor helped him decide to teach.

Being a tutor is just one of the unique opportunities available to GRCC math students outside the classroom.

GRCC students can participate in:

  • The GVSU/GRCC Women’s Math Circle, a group that meets monthly to promote socializing, math curiosity and mentorships.
  • The national Student Mathematics League competition, which includes scholarship opportunities.
  • The national Student Research League, in which students work with faculty mentors on research.
  • Attending the monthly Mathematics Seminars, with opportunities to present on different topics.
  • Summer research opportunities sponsored by four-year colleges and universities.
  • Specially designed seminar courses.

“We welcome students of all ages, abilities and backgrounds,” Dersch said. 

Grand Rapids Community College offers learners of all ages opportunities to gain credits for degrees or transfer and in-demand career skills leading to rewarding careers. GRCC was established in 1914 – Michigan’s first community college -- and offers affordable classes on weekdays, evenings, Saturdays and online at locations throughout Kent and Ottawa counties.


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