At the start of the Spring 2023 semester, many new faces arrived at Drew University. One of the new faces is Denish Akuom, who is teaching two sections of STAT 207: Introduction to Statistics. Originally from Kenya, Akuom first came to the United States in 2017 to pursue his master’s degree in mathematics education at Rutgers University. He is currently enrolled in a PhD program at Montclair State University and plans to graduate next year.
Akuom decided to teach at Drew because he believes that its environment is conducive to learning and students’ growth. “[I chose Drew because] they’re really supporting their students in all dimensions, whether it’s academic, whether it’s other sides of life,” Akuom said. “You find that they really have students at heart. The university is also renowned for all the research and other activities that they are doing. I’ve never heard of any negative things about them.”
Akuom was inspired to explore mathematics education because he wanted to help reform the field. He dislikes instruction in which students simply listen to a teacher’s lecture. “If you just take the traditional kind of teaching, it means that we just ignore [students’] ideas…The starting point of any teaching should be the ideas that students have with them, not what the teacher thinks is right,” Akuom said. His PhD research topic is on responsive design pedagogy, in which teachers embrace students’ ideas about new educational technology programs, illustrating his view that instruction should be student-centered.
Some of the teaching strategies that Akuom enjoys using are class discussion and student-student interaction. According to Akuom, these methods of instruction bring students’ thought processes to the forefront of the classroom. Class discussion also illustrates the fact that everyone sees concepts differently and that there are no incorrect ways of thinking. “If I write the number two on the board, and I tell everyone to interpret it, you will realize that some people will see that it is the number two, [and] some people will see it as representing something else. So I always try to initiate [class discussion] so that we all share our views together,” Akuom said. He also enjoys interacting directly with students by observing them work through examples and asking them to explain how they approach problems.
Akuom is also the founder of STEM Center Africa, which provides STEM education programs to students in Kenya. The programs focus on topics such as basic computer literacy, Scratch programming, 3D designing and computational thinking. Like many students in Africa, Akuom completed his undergraduate education without ever having used a computer, and he struggled to use computers when he first came to the United States.
“I wasn’t that fast in typing or using the computers…For me to compete, like to work at pace with the other students [at Rutgers]…I had to work extra hard, like watching YouTube videos on how to use computers. I could never catch up and just be like others,” Akuom said. He created STEM Center Africa with the hope that the generation of African students behind him would not have to go through a similar experience.
Akuom is proud of the progress that STEM Center Africa has made so far. For example, seven girls participated in one of STEM Center Africa’s coding programs and won a local International Space School Educational Trust competition last year. STEM Center Africa currently has two locations in Kenya, but Akuom hopes to expand the program to other African countries.Akuom is always interested in hearing what students have to say. If you would like to reach out to Akuom, you can email him at email@example.com.
Abigail is a first-year majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology.