Student Profile: Cheryl Van Ness

Cheryl Van Ness knew she wanted to work in education at a very young age. She came from a long line of educators; her mother was a teacher and her grandfather was a superintendent. Van Ness pursued her undergraduate degree through Douglass College at Rutgers University, majoring in mathematics with a certificate in mathematics education. During this time she took an elementary mathematics education course with Professor Warren Crown. Crown opened her eyes to a mathematical pedagogy that focused on problem solving instead of rote memorization. This sparked Van Ness’s interest in the learning processes that create mathematics competency.

After completing her undergraduate degree, Van Ness taught middle school mathematics at Netcong Elementary School, later becoming the head of the mathematics department. As a teacher, Van Ness believes that students should understand the core reasoning behind mathematics and not just memorize routines and formulas. She engages students through complex problem solving activities where students learn by doing. Instead of inundating students with terms and definitions, Van Ness creates scenarios where students can discover these definitions for themselves.
Van Ness began working remotely as an editor for a mathematics textbook company in order to have a more versatile schedule. In 2011 she found the opportunity to go back to school and enrolled in the masters program in Mathematics Education at Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE). She chose the GSE because of its flexibility and convenience for nontraditional students. Her advisor, Dr. Carolyn Maher, encouraged Van Ness to continue on to pursue her Ph.D. in the newly formed mathematics education program at the GSE.
“My doctoral work at the GSE has been highly valuable,” said Van Ness. “I’ve always been interested in finding better ways to teach mathematics, incredibly talented mentors like Carolyn Maher helped guide my interests into research questions that investigate the processes behind mathematical reasoning.”
Van Ness’s research interests focus on mathematical reasoning and the logical operations behind it. Her current research tackles a specific type of reasoning: argumentation – or the ability to construct, analyze and compare mathematical arguments. This is an important component of the Mathematics Common Core Standards for K – 12 students. Van Ness’s dissertation uses video artifacts to demonstrate argumentation in the classroom and examines whether these artifacts help pre-service and in-service teachers gain a better understanding of argumentation and how to evaluate it.
Upon finishing her doctoral studies, Van Ness is hoping to make a positive impact on mathematics education, whether she is educating pre-service teachers or designing professional development programs for teachers. Van Ness credits her husband, who is also an educator, for supporting her decision to pursue her graduate work. They have four children, two of whom are also going into education. Besides spending her free time with her family, Van Ness is an avid photographer and a gardener. She is happy to continue her family’s legacy in education.
To learn more about the Ph.D. program in mathematics education, visit the program webpage.