Meet Fall 2016 Graduate Michole Washington

Advice to new students: Speak up; do not sit quietly and struggle alone

Michole E. Washington graduated with a B.S. in Applied Mathematics. She came to Georgia Tech from Westlake High School, Atlanta, Georgia. While waiting to hear from Ph.D. programs, she is growing a mathematics tutoring company she established just shortly before graduation.

What attracted you to study in Georgia Tech? How did Georgia Tech meet your expectations?

I am from a lower socioeconomic community south of Atlanta; my mother and I fell on hard times almost routinely. I found solace in independently learning math. During my senior year of high school, I decided to major in mathematics after years of self-exploration of the subject. With support from my mother and friends, I applied to Georgia Tech even though I had little hope that I would be accepted. I was not only accepted early, but I was also awarded a G. Wayne Clough Georgia Tech Promise scholarship, including funding for a semester of study abroad.

What is the most important thing you learned while at Georgia Tech?

I learned the true value in building meaningful relationships, not only with my peers, but also with faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the surrounding community; janitors, supervisors, professors, chefs, security guards, and Stinger drivers, whom I loved getting to know. They, too, supported me. Networking is beyond potential monetary gain. Networking should be an organic exchange of cultures, ideals, trades, and other aspects that make individuals different and unique. Being exposed to various perspectives at Tech made the experience even more worthwhile.

What surprised you the most at Georgia Tech? What disappointed you the most?

A few weeks before graduation I discovered that I would be only the ninth black woman to graduate with a B.S. in Applied Mathematics from Tech. A mentor of mine shared this fact on her Facebook page. Within hours the post went viral: 40 shares on Twitter, more than 20,000 likes on Instagram, and at least 6,000 retweets on Twitter.

Being only the ninth in 131 years is equally surprising as it is disappointing, but it encourages me and others to shrink the gap.

Which professor(s) or class(es) made a big impact on you?

Abstract Algebra was extremely difficult. On my first try, I constantly battled a two-fold problem: learning how to write proofs and trying to master new material that uses proof writing. After weeks of deliberation, I withdrew from the class.

The following semester I re-enrolled in the class taught by Professor Josephine Yu, who teaches much differently from other math professors. Her class was interactive and creative; whether you grasp the information or not, you walk away from her class feeling like she was giving her all so that you can organically learn the information. Having a professor who cared that much guarantees an impact, and I passed the class.

What is your most vivid memory of your time at Georgia Tech?

My most vivid memory currently is meeting the Fall 2016 commencement speaker, University of Maryland Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski III. He is my idol as a black mathematician and an influential proponent of increasing the access of minority students to STEM education. Meeting him was just phenomenal. He offered great advice, which I hope to live up to within the next year.

In what experiential learning activities did you participate? What was the most valuable outcome of your experience?

In Summer 2014, I conducted research at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, in Berkeley, California. It was my first exposure to advanced mathematics, like Real Analysis. Although it was difficult, I found great support from my two research partners, graduate teaching assistants, and program directors. Some people in my cohort remain dear friends today. We continue to support each other on our mathematical journeys.

In Summer 2015, I studied in Hungary as part of the Budapest Semesters in Mathematics program. It was my first time abroad, an amazing experience every day. I loved learning mathematics from Hungarian mathematicians and traveling to nine countries in two months.

In Summer 2016, I was a counselor for OMED’s Challenge Program 2016 for incoming minority Yellow Jackets. I continue to be a mentor and resource to them today.

On the basis of your experience, what advice would you give to incoming freshmen at Georgia Tech? 

Speak up; you have a voice, not only for matters of social injustice, but also for academics.

I cannot count the number of times when—even though I numerically did not “pass” the course—the professor graded me on the basis of my ability to hold discussion in several office hours about the content. They rated me according to my willingness to learn inside and outside of lectures. Truth be told I was probably wrong nine times out of 10, but they recognized my desire to fix the mistakes. That is the value in education.

Do not sit quietly and struggle alone. Raise your hand in class and go to office hours. You can even go to other professors’ and teaching assistants’ office hours.

Do not let anything get in the way of your education and your goals, but also know that it is okay to take a step back, to fail, or to barely miss your goal. The process is what makes you strong.

What feedback would you give to Georgia Tech leaders, faculty, and/or staff to improve the Georgia Tech experience for future students?

The student experience can be improved. Students deserve faculty who care about their holistic growth as future contributors to society. Meaningful relationships go much farther than the syllabus content. We need the motivation and support all around to encourage us to learn more.

Where are you headed after graduation? How did your Georgia Tech education prepare you for this next step?

Georgia Tech taught me that it is okay to love mathematics the way that I do and that it is an even better idea to share my passion with the world.

A year before graduation, I started my own math tutoring/mentoring company, called Afrithmetic. I plan to grow my company and spread our reach to several schools in the Metro Atlanta Area. I am also awaiting notification from several Ph.D. programs in Mathematics Education.

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A. Maureen Rouhi, Ph.D.

Director of Communications

College of Sciences