Mathematics alumnus wins significant awards for STEM educators

Two-time SUNY New Paltz graduate Samrat Pathania ’13 (Mathematics; Adolescence Education – Physics) ’18g (Adolescence Education – Mathematics) has been awarded a pair of prestigious awards aimed at helping scholars as they make the transition into STEM education.

Pathania, currently a teacher at Wallkill Senior High School in Wallkill, New York, has been named the sole winner of the 2017 STEM Teacher Scholarship from the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, and was also awarded one of two 2017 Mathematics Graduate Course Work Scholarships from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Pathania’s career began in information technology. He studied engineering in Jamshedpur, in his home nation of India, and worked in Bangalore as a software programmer before coming to the United States and accepting an IT position in Long Island.

“I really wanted to make a meaningful contribution to my community, but felt that my corporate IT job did not provide me with such an avenue,” he said. “I had many questions but no answers. So, in 2009, we moved to the Hudson Valley to raise our daughter in a community that was more closely connected to nature, and willing to put their time into environmental conservation.”

Shortly thereafter, Pathania opted for a career change and enrolled at SUNY New Paltz, where he studied physics education and mathematics, and first met Professor (now Emeritus Professor) David Clark.

“Mathematics was more of a spur of the moment addition to my degree choice,” Pathania said. “Little did I know that as a result of this happenstance I would meet the most influential teacher of my life.”

When they began working together, Clark had just published a new textbook, “Euclidean Geometry: A Guided Inquiry Approach,” which was aimed at helping high school mathematics teachers adopt new pedagogical approaches in the wake of generational changes to best practices in teaching mathematics.

“At that time I was interested in developing the theoretical foundations of this new geometry to support university instructors teaching from the book, and was looking for a capable and interested collaborator,” Clark said.

Pathania continued his education and his collaboration with Clark as a graduate student, this time focusing fully on mathematics. He graduated again in May 2018, and has kept on with Clark in the months since.

“The graduate program gave me much greater freedom to conduct independent research,” Pathania said. “I have been working on this foundational material for David Clark’s formulation for axiomatic geometry for the last two years, I worked out a portion of it as part of my master’s thesis, and now we are completing it as co-authors of a new reference book for university professors.”

The two awards recognize Pathania’s work both as a scholar and for his work designing and teaching courses at Wallkill High School. He says in many ways the two roles go hand-in-hand – he remains dedicated to his work as an educator, but also credits the research experience with Clark as foundational to his appreciation of mathematics and teaching.

“Even after completing my engineering in India and working for many years as a software programmer, I saw mathematics merely as tool to be used in the pursuit of science,” he said. “I had no clue as to how creative and in some ways transcendental the field of mathematics is.

“This research work has been a wonderful journey, which has not only given me a deeper understanding of mathematics, but also helped me become a better teacher, for I have had a prolonged opportunity to practice the skills of deductive reasoning that I must use to help my students learn.”

Visit the Department of Mathematics and the Department of Teaching & Learning to learn more about opportunities available at SUNY New Paltz to students of math and education.