By Joy S. Jones
As the dean of mathematics on the West Campus, Russell Takashima is responsible for the well-being of faculty members, math scheduling and ensuring that everyone has an appropriate workload, budgeting for the division and taking great care of students.
It’s a long way from a time he recalls when as a student himself, he was a perpetual “back-of-the-classroom sitter.” Then a great teacher, a calculus instructor, managed to reach him where he was, which made a world of difference.
“The way she presented the material, it was so understandable that it bounced off the board and I’d get that ‘light bulb’ every day,” he said. “It was her ability to make things come alive for me that after being in her class, I knew that teaching was what I wanted to do.”
Russell soon found himself tutoring other students in the class and discovered that it came quite easily for him. Yet, he would not go into math education for some time. Though he started college right after high school, he quit and came back after a career working in building construction.
From 1991 to 1994, he taught at Santa Fe Community College. Then in August 1994, Russell joined Valencia as an adjunct instructor, teaching in the math department and volunteering in the Math Center. His first job was a challenging three-hour-long Saturday class, often filled with nontraditional students.
“While it was difficult for some of them, I too, had faced challenges and life issues myself and had gone back to school, so I knew it was doable. My ability to relate to them and share my story is one of the things that really sparked my teaching.”
In 1997, he accepted the position of full-time senior instructional assistant overseeing the lab component for all developmental math courses and would eventually earn tenure in 2002. Just two years later, in 2004, he accepted the responsibilities of director of developmental mathematics, leading faculty and staff with curriculum, adjunct development and initiatives to promote student learning. Most recently, he worked with the Statway pathway, a program that allows students to simultaneously complete their developmental mathematics requirements and receive college mathematics credit in statistics.
Russell shares, “We knew the algebraic model was antiquated and not serving all students and had been working with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Statway program to take developmental math students to and through college-level statistics in two terms.” Subsequent work with the University of Texas’ Charles A. Dana Center led to the emergence of Valencia’s new math pathways program.
He is pleased with the work that has been undertaken and believes it will eliminate roadblocks that students have experienced in the past.
To further his desire to help students succeed in math, in 2007, Russell applied for and received the Raymer F. Maguire Jr. Chair in Mathematics where he focused on bringing hands-on manipulatives into the classroom. This helped to build the inventory in the current hands-on learning resource area. And in 2010, when he was again awarded the same Endowed Chair in mathematics, he used the funds to bring the Livescribe Smart Pen — a first at Valencia — into the classroom, which is now a classroom staple.
In 2011 Russell assumed another leadership role, accepting the position of interim dean of mathematics at the West Campus. Falecia Williams, president of the West Campus, announced in 2013 that Russell was selected as the dean of mathematics.
“I am excited about the upcoming academic year where changes in our math path will streamline the process for students to achieve academic success. The math paths are aligned with students’ majors that will address the purpose of the course(s).”
“Working with faculty has been an inspiration to me because of the great ideas and initiatives that are infused in the classroom. Conversations with faculty have always revealed the special ‘things’ they are doing in the classroom to enhance student learning and the essential competencies.”
Still a teacher at heart, he confesses, “at times, these ‘things’ have led me to think about returning to the classroom.”
And he enjoys his conversations with students as it gives him an opportunity to advise, inform and receive feedback on their Valencia experience.
“Russell is the kind of calm, thoughtful leader that makes working through difficult issues a little easier. He keeps students at the forefront of his decisions and deeply respects his faculty and staff colleagues,” says Amy Bosley, vice president of organizational development and human resources.
“Valencia College is an institution of opportunity for all and what I like best is that I get to help people on a daily basis. The resources available here are endless. The bottom line is that people at Valencia are here to help others achieve their goals while supporting life-long learning.”
Born and raised in Hawaii, Russell received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the University of Florida and a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the University of Central Florida.
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