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Karen Hollebrands ’95MED: ‘ I Would Like to Help Support Other Faculty Members in the College of Education to Conduct Research to Address Persistent Challenges in Education’

Karen Hollebrands

Why did you choose the NC State College of Education?

I chose NC State twice. When I was pursuing my master’s degree in 1992 I chose to attend NC State because it was one of the few programs in the state that had a program and courses focused on mathematics education. Often students will take classes in mathematics and classes in education. The opportunity to take courses that specifically addressed the teaching and learning of mathematics was very appealing. I returned to NC State in 2001 to begin my career as an assistant professor of mathematics education. I was attracted to the university because of its land-grant mission, support for research, dedication to outstanding teaching and strong focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Why did you choose a career in education?

I chose education because I was interested in working with adolescents and because I desired the opportunity to nurture their interest and excitement about learning mathematics. I was fortunate to have excellent teachers who encouraged and supported me and I wanted to do the same for others. Also, my mother was a high school business teacher. As a child I observed the work she did at home and the interactions she had in public with former students who often mentioned the impact she had on their careers. This impressed upon me the positive impact teachers can have on the lives of students and emphasized the important role teachers have in a community.

What drew you to your specific field?

While I was teaching high school mathematics, new technologies were being introduced. At the time, these technologies included graphing calculators, dynamic geometry programs, and computer algebra systems. I was curious about how students’ uses of technology influenced their learning and attended a number of workshops to learn more about how teachers could use technology in the classroom. This interest about the influence of technology on the learning and teaching of mathematics is what drew me toward the research that I pursue today.

Why did you decide to pursue a PhD.? 

My master’s degree at NC State introduced me to research related to mathematics teaching and learning. I began to apply what I learned in my own classroom and was interested in learning more. In 1996, I applied for a National Science Foundation-supported graduate research traineeship at Penn State focused on cognition and technology, and was fortunate to receive it. At Penn State, I worked closely with my major professor and a team of graduate students who supported my development as a researcher and mathematics teacher educator.

What are your research interests and what sparked your interest in that topic(s)?

My research focuses on investigating how to prepare teachers to teach mathematics with technology and the influence technology has on students’ mathematical thinking. I have been involved with a number of research projects that have developed curricula that are being used with prospective and practicing mathematics teachers (see for example PTMT project , Forging Connections project, and Teaching Mathematics with Technology MOOC-Ed).

What is one research project or moment in your academic career that you are particularly proud of?

The PTMT project was funded in 2005 by the National Science Foundation to support me and my colleague, Hollylynne Lee, to develop, implement, and study curricula materials to prepare teachers to teach mathematics with technology. Through that project, and related ones, my colleagues and I have worked with more than 250 mathematics teacher educators and 6,000 teachers across the U.S. Fifteen years later, my colleagues and former doctoral students are continuing to work on research projects related to that original project.

What do you most hope to accomplish in your role as an interim associate dean?

As an early-career assistant professor, I was fortunate to engage in productive collaborations on several research projects. These early collaborations were incredibly important in my own development as a researcher and scholar. As interim associate dean for research and innovation, I would like to help support other faculty members in the College of Education to develop productive collaborations, secure funding, and conduct research to address persistent challenges in education.

What do you think makes someone an “extraordinary educator?

I think an extraordinary educator is one who cares deeply about students, is reflective about their practice, considers creative solutions to challenging problems in education, is committed to continued learning and is passionate about their work.