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It all adds up for math professor

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Thomasenia Adams

Professor of Mathematics Education
College of Education, School of Teaching and Learning

The time had come to make a choice. Thomasenia Lott Adams – then an 18 year old from a South Carolina town known for its chicken farms, daughter of an illiterate father and a mother who graduated high school at the age of 35 – spent the first two weeks of college hiding in her dormitory room. She had no idea what to major in – or what classes to take.

“I’ll get you kicked out of here if you don’t figure it out,” her roommate said, urging Adams to see a mathematics professor known for propelling freshmen into action.

Adams’ choice became clear: Return to a life of physical labor or register for the professor’s math class. She registered for the class.

“Lo and behold,” she recalls, “I found something I could love.”

Four years later, she graduated magna cum laude from South Carolina State College with a bachelor’s in mathematics and computer science. She went on to earn her master’s and doctorate at UF’s College of Education.

Adams eventually became the first African-American woman to earn a full education professorship at UF. She and two colleagues recently received a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant to study how schools subtly discourage African-American girls from pursuing careers in science, math and other technical fields. She co-authored a state and national math series. She served on a state Department of Education panel to develop the Next Generations Sunshine State Standards for math. And she plays a key role at the UF Lastinger Center for Learning.

Adams oversees an ambitious extension of the center’s award-winning elementary school Florida Master Teacher Initiative into middle schools and high schools. Working with the Helios Education Foundation and Lastinger colleagues, she’s enlisted dozens of Pinellas County secondary school teachers into a version of the Master Teacher program that concentrates on science, technology, engineering and math.

“I still see too many children who are not achieving in mathematics and science, and that is very disturbing,” says Adams, who recently graduated from the Higher Education Resource Services Institute for Women in Higher Education. “Mathematics is the gateway to a lot of other disciplines.”

UF education doctoral student Joanne Laframenta credits Adams with giving her the tools and support to become a researcher.

“Dr. Adams has always emboldened her students to follow their own path,” Laframenta says. “The academic professional that I am today is a result of this intensive and caring nurturing.”

Adams spends a great deal of time in the field, working with teachers and students to improve math instruction. She recently co-authored the “GO Math! Florida” elementary school textbook, which has been adopted by many Florida school districts.

“Thomasenia Adams has the central gravitas that is so important to our program,” Lastinger Center Director Don Pemberton says. “She’s making quite a difference.”

Photo credit: Kristen Bartlett Grace — University Photography