Enter Liebars Stage Left
Associate Professor and Co-Chair of the Mathematics and Statistics Department, Coordinator of the Mathematics Education program, advisor for Mathematics Secondary Education students, and member of the Teacher Education Program Council, Dr. Cathy Liebars is always working hard.
“Teaching was the natural thing to do with math at that time,” said the mathematics education coordinator about her reason for pursing math education. Since high school, she stated that she was always interested in math, a subject that came easy to her and enjoyed. She also added that having excellent teachers helped make her decision.
Liebars attended Kutztown University for Mathematics and Secondary Education. Toward the end of her four years of undergraduate study, Liebars was encouraged by a professor to apply for a fellowship program at Lehigh University for women and minorities to pursue graduate studies and research in mathematics.
“They are basically paying you to study,” Liebars explained. “So it sounded like a good deal. I decided to apply. At that point, I never intended to get a PhD in math. I still thought I was going to teach high school math afterwards. I would just get to study more math.”
Accepted into the fellowship program, Liebars participated in the three-year fellowship program at Lehigh after graduation. When she enjoyed the atmosphere of graduate school, Liebars decided to stay at Lehigh University for an additional two years to receive a PhD in Mathematics. Right after graduating, Liebars came to TCNJ to join the faculty here.
“My doctorate is in mathematics, but I’ve always had an interest in education from my undergraduate degree. [TCNJ] wanted someone with a background in math, but someone interested in teaching education courses in math,” said Liebars on joining the TCNJ faculty.
As current Mathematics Education Coordinator, Liebars oversees the mathematics education program at TCNJ. Her job includes coordinating field experiences for students to apply for student teaching, and finding supervisors for student teachers. Additionally, her involvement with the Education Department makes sure she can give the students and faculty up-to-date information of the State of New Jersey’s teaching requirements. Liebars also coordinates, schedules, and hires professors for all math education courses in the department.
“I focus more on math secondary education because their first major is in mathematics,” explained Liebars. “I advise all the juniors and seniors. Junior year is when the students are officially in the program, meaning that is when they start applying for student teaching. I have to make sure they are meeting all their requirements for their junior year before they start student teaching. So I might as well become their advisor!”
As one of her advisees, Evan Levy (’14) enjoys talking to the co-chair. “She provides honest advice and makes sure you are on the right track.”
Not only is Liebars an advisor for students, but also she works with the student advisory board. “She is very open to thinking of new ways to improve a department that is already excellent.” Levy said of Liebars involvement with the advisory board.”
Currently, Liebars is working on revising TCNJ’s Masters of Arts in Teaching program in STEM fields through the Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship Grant. Through the fellowship, selected students would receive a stipend and reduced tuition to pursue the master’s degree program. Liebars explained that the selected students must commit to three years of teaching in a high-needs district after graduating.
“We have a strong undergraduate program at TCNJ, so I wanted to strengthen the master’s program and bring it up to that level,” said Liebars. She stated that the first cohort of students in the program would start next summer (2014).
Somehow on top of everything else, Liebars continues to do what she always wanted to do, teach. She currently teaches Methods of Teaching Mathematics course. “She is very engaged in the classroom,” said Jessica Gonzalez (’15), an advisee and student of Liebars. “Dr. Liebars is obviously dedicated to her work, and her positive attitude and excitement towards education inevitably rubs off onto her students.”
Liebars commitment to her students is shown through the extra steps she takes to provide them help when needed. Gonzalez has been working personally with Liebars on a research paper. “We have met several times to simply discuss ideas I have for the thesis.” She explained, “many of these discussions could have been done over e-mail, but Dr. Liebars took time out of her busy schedule to work with me in person.”
Helping future math teachers and enhancing the math programs, Liebars is also involved in theater, which is an activity she has always enjoyed. “I sing, act, and dance,” said Liebars. “I do community theater, and I advise the musical theater organization at TCNJ as well.”
“Once I had Dr. Liebars as a professor and advisor, I felt like I belonged in the math department. She turns the math department into a community” said Levy when asked for additional comments about the Mathematics Education Coordinator. “She made me view mathematics as a future, not just a job.”
– Danielle Leng
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