Dr. Michael A. Gilliam
School of Arts & Sciences
Assistant Professor of Mathematics
I want to go out of my way so I can better serve the students and promote student-centeredness on the campus.
Michael A. Gilliam's route to becoming a professor of mathematics at The College of New Rochelle was far from straightforward, requiring stops in California and Montana, studies in kinesiology and nutrition, even a job designing irrigation systems. Now, with his first full-time teaching position, he wants to help students find their "scientific voice," like he eventually did.
"I was a late-bloomer," Gilliam says. "I didn't start my undergrad until I was 25."
In high school, his interest in chess and detail-oriented projects merely hinted at a career in math. After graduating, the California native designed irrigation systems for vineyards and custom homes, which required a knowledge of geometry.
"I didn't know I was going to college," he says, but he felt the desire to teach and work with children of all ages. He also noticed that he had hit the career ceiling for someone with just a high school diploma. "I started reflecting: How else can I satisfy that desire to teach and increase my paycheck?"
Gilliam began taking kinesiology and nutritional courses at a community college with an eye toward teaching nutritional science. After a semester or two, he found he was focusing more on the theoretical aspects of his studies, which encouraged him to try mathematics.
"I was unfamiliar with the field as a whole," he says. He was still taking courses in nutrition even as he applied to the math program at the University of California at Berkeley. After that, the desire for something different, more rural, led to earning his Master's and Ph.D. from the University of Montana at Missoula.
"It was amazing, breathtaking," Gilliam says. "A great experience on many sensory levels. I saw nature, wildlife, and I got to experience just a different way of life that I couldn't get in L.A. and San Francisco."
A new experience awaited him when he joined The College of New Rochelle in the Fall of 2011. He notes that the cost of living is really low, compared to the West Coast, "and culturally people here are a lot more direct."
"It's been a great education for me -- I'm learning a lot," Gilliam says. Half of his time is spent on "service courses" -- math for students of all stripes. The other half is aimed more for math majors: courses in calculus, algebra, real analysis, and abstract algebra. His specialty is complex manifold theory.
Gilliam says his focus is on reaching out to students. "I want to go out of my way so I can better serve the students and promote student-centeredness on the campus." He also wants to encourage coordination between departments. He says one way to do that is to have math majors tutor their fellow students, "not just embrace the major, but promote and share the things they learn.
The students at CNR have been "very receptive, very warm and welcoming, which has been awesome," Gilliam says, who adds that their initiative has been impressive. "I'm having a great time in the Math Department."