Connecting Departments, Policies, and RUME

By Naneh Apkarian, Dana Kirin, Jessica Gehrtz, and Kristen Vroom, guest bloggers

This is part of the occasional series of guest blog posts on Launchings. Others who wish to submit a guest blog post for consideration should contact

This guest blog is to promote a new article, titled “Connecting the Stakeholders: Departments, Policy, and Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education,” which comes out of the Progress through Calculus (PtC) research project. Some housekeeping and context information first: PtC is an NSF funded (DUE No. 1430540) project run in conjunction with the MAA, and is in many ways a continuation of the earlier Characteristics of Successful Programs in College Calculus (CSPCC; aka the MAA National Study of College Calculus). This new article has been published in the journal PRIMUS, which is now available as part of membership with the MAA (more on that here).

Now, the paper!

For years, attention and concern have been focused on introductory post secondary mathematics courses. These courses are traditionally thought of as part of the gateway to STEM degrees, and their ubiquity makes them a key factor in students’ post secondary education experiences. High enrollment in these courses across the country makes them a common target for administrators and others hoping to impact retention and graduation rates, particularly in STEM fields. Thus, introductory mathematics courses - particularly precalculus and calculus - are a topic of conversation among members of mathematics departments, researchers of undergraduate mathematics education, and policy makers at multiple levels (and others). However, these conversations are not always on the same plane.

University of Saint Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota, site of the MAA-sponsored conference on  Precalculus to Calculus: Insights & Innovations

University of Saint Thomas, Saint Paul, Minnesota, site of the MAA-sponsored conference on Precalculus to Calculus: Insights & Innovations

Our experience hosting a conference of (roughly) one hundred people with different relationships to those three communities provided us with a clear window into some of these discrepancies. The Precalculus to Calculus: Insights and Innovations conference was hosted at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota in 2016 as part of the PtC and CSPCC projects, with support from the MAA. This conference, and the resulting paper, are part of continuing efforts to connect researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers in the arena of undergraduate mathematics education. We choose to organize and share our observations publicly in the hopes of furthering the ongoing conversation and supporting the collaborations which are critical for widespread and sustainable improvement.

The conference was organized into sessions, each introduced by a panel but consisting mainly of attendee discussions facilitated by project team members. This was a purposeful attempt to engage participants in conversation and innovation. The active and engaged (participant-centered, one might say) model allowed us to listen to our participants as they engaged in meaningful conversations, and to record emerging themes in those conversations (we try to walk the walk…). Our paper highlights four main themes:

  1. Myriad definitions, operationalizations, and views of “active learning” and how that inconsistency is problematic

  2. A lack of clear strategies for supporting each and every student in mathematics in ways that redress systemic inequities and acknowledge individualized experiences

  3. The content of precalculus/calculus courses and the systems for placing new students into appropriate courses in the sequence

  4. Connections between program goals, strategies for reaching those goals, and assessments 

We hope that this paper will further facilitate the ongoing conversations between stakeholders (and spark new ones!) to better support student success in mathematics and beyond.


Apkarian, N., Kirin, D., Gehrtz, J., & Vroom, K. (2019). Connecting the stakeholders: Departments, policy, and research in undergraduate mathematics education. PRIMUS.

Naneh Apkarian is a post-doctoral researcher at the Center for Research on Instructional Change in Postsecondary Education at Western Michigan University

Jessica Gehrtz is a post-doctoral researcher at the Scientists Engaged in Education Research Center at the University of Georgia

Dana Kirin and Kristen Vroom are graduate students in the Mathematics Education Program at Portland State University