Facing Fears: A Distinguished GSE Alum Problem Solves Fear of Math

There is a moment when things just make sense. 

Take Nigel Hollis. His moment – when he realized his passion for math – was when his high school classmates started asking him homework questions instead of the teacher. 

“When I started to think about what I wanted to do with my life, I realized I wanted to help people understand math,” he said.  

Nigel graduated with his master’s in education in 2023 from the Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE). Concentrating in math was a natural choice for him.  

But he could not understand why his peers feared math. Therefore, his plan was simple – make people less afraid.  

Nigel Hollis graduates from the GSE.

In a problem-solving class with Professor Carolyn Maher, Nigel enjoyed brainstorming new techniques with his cohort. One of the coolest things about the GSE is learning in small cohorts, Nigel said. Eight students would meet weekly to solve one math problem from different angles. 

“It was a creative way to think about the problems and cooperate with people, while also seeing how I would want to fit those practices into my teaching,” Nigel said. 

In Professor Randi Ostrove’s class, “Students, Communities, and Social Justice,” Nigel spoke to families in his community on how to communicate with schools for a class project. The project’s purpose was to “arm people with knowledge” and teach the community to represent themselves and participate in the conversation with their local education system.  

The GSE’s focus on teaching in these areas is crucial, Nigel said. He currently teaches in an urban school district. He also serves as a co-advisor for the Black Culture Alliance at his school.  

“The GSE gave me the time to understand how to work with this group of students and how to be culturally responsive in my classroom,” Nigel said.  

Professors like Dr. Keith Weber, who advised Nigel throughout his student teaching, were incredible and made it interesting to think about math. Nigel said his professors helped him achieve his goal of making math more “approachable” and less “torturous.”  

The GSE student teaching program allowed Nigel to figure out his presence in a classroom – or as Nigel calls it, his “teacher-sona.” 

“It truly feels like the first part of your first-year teaching,” Nigel said. “Student teaching with the GSE helped me in every single way.” 

Nigel graduated from the GSE as part of the five-year teacher education program after completing his bachelor’s degree in mathematics.  

He received the Nancy Higginson Dorr Award in 2023 which honors graduates who show promise of being exceptional teachers. He was also recognized as a nominee for the 2023 New Jersey Distinguished Clinical Intern Award, which highlights students who have “demonstrated outstanding achievement during their student teaching placement.”  

Coming full circle, Nigel completed his student teaching at the same high school he graduated from: North Brunswick Township High School—the same school he teaches at now.