City College programs impress SDCCD board members

SDCCD board members liked what they saw from MathJams and MESA programs at City College.


The MathJam tutoring program was among the City College highlights presented to the SDCCD board. Courtesy of MathJam.

Jonny Rico, Editor-in-Chief

Under the new state funding formula for community colleges, student success becomes an important metric. The San Diego Community College Board of Trustees got to see what success looks like on the San Diego City College campus on Sept. 27.

The SDCCD board took its show on the road, holding its second meeting of the academic term on the City College campus. Before the meeting, the board members were presented with the standout programs at the college. Two of the board favorites were MathJam and the Mathematical, Engineering, Science, Achievement, known as MESA.  

“Can we clone Dr. Rob (Rubalcaba)?,” said Board of Trustees President Dr. Maria Nieto Senour. “We need more math teachers like Dr. Rob.”

Rubalcaba is a former City College student who went on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. He currently teaches several math courses at City College as well as organizes the MathJam tutoring session.

“We open up the math tutorial center to the entire campus and we invite all levels of math,” said Rubalcaba after the presentation to the SDCCD board. “For the first hour, we have music and check in so you can listen to some music and get to know your tutor, eat some pizza. Then for four hours straight we have free tutoring.”

One of the unique ways that Rubalcaba teaches math is through the use of music. He incorporates sound waves and their spikes and dips into his lesson plan.

“A function that is periodic, it’s basically like a loop,” said Rubalcaba, who started a mini math lesson in the hallway. “You can listen to a beat and count how many times it cycles and you can slow it down, you can speed it up, and that is like compressing a sine curve or expanding a sine curve.”

Once you have the math and the beats, the next step is to add the dance moves. And that is what Rubalcaba intends to do on Oct. 10.

“We have an event called Hip-Hop Dance Math coming up,” Rubalcaba said. “We are going to be putting dance moves to mathematics. We are going to be teaching concepts and algebra, trigonometry, calculus (and) statistics.”  

High-level math students come back to MathJam on their own time and give back by tutoring lower-level math students the same way they got help from their professor.

“Knowing that there is someone that’s struggling at a lower level of math and they’re stuck, you just want to help out,” said Adam King, a current student of Rubalcaba. “It is just like (Rubalcaba) is doing with us. We are giving back just like he helps us.”

The MathJams are increasingly popular events. According to Rubalcaba, they have received over 100 students in each of their last five MathJam events.

“We’ve had over 100 students, half of them have been tutors,” Rubalcaba said. “Every table has a tutor with a student. So you get one-on-one help for four hours, which is really huge. We have had students that learn more in those four hours than they did the whole semester.”

Another City College program that was popular with the board of trustees was the MESA program.

MESA was created in 2000 by Professor Rafael Alvarez. Approximately in 2009, Alvarez developed and implemented the “learning culture model” to his organization.

“I found research that identified the 10 important factors for college success,” Alvarez said. “One of those factors was understanding the college system, the college standard, and the culture of college. And that to me was eye-opening.  

“I’m training them in the learning culture, strategies to approaching the learning.”

Alvarez goes beyond teaching and preparing his students in mathematics, engineering, and science. He tries to instill the tools necessary for his students to thrive in any academic aspect.  

“It’s a mindset,” Alvarez said. “In the learning culture, we don’t question potential. All students have great potential. We validate students. We’re inclusive.”

There are strict guidelines to follow to be part of MESA, according to Alvarez.

“They’re not going to be in my program if they blame, complain or make excuses,” Alvarez said. “MESA creators take responsibility and take action to seek solutions.”

Under the guidance of Alvarez, a core group of his MESA students is now leading the charge to implement the learning culture model at the Veterans Center at City College.