Ivona Grzegorczyk is a Mathematician with a Passion for Art.
"Agreed?" Ivona Grzegorczyk asks her students while gesturing to an equation written on the white board. One student raises his hand and questions if the equation would work another way.
"I like them to participate," she said regarding her 'Agreed?' question. "I want them to ask questions and make guesses."
At her core, Dr. Ivona -- as students refer to her -- is a teacher. Before she became a mathematician and before she chose her college major -- which was a toss-up between mathematics and art history -- Grzegorczyk was barely even a teenager when she taught her first class, and she was hooked.
When she was just 12 years old she filled in for a kindergarten teacher for three months because the class was using an experimental math book with material that wasn't familiar to the teacher. "I taught them their numbers," she explained with a laugh.
After that she went on to tutor students while she was in high school, and then taught as a graduate assistant while pursing her master's degree in mathematics at Warsaw University in her native Poland. In 1982, she came to McGill University in Canada for a fellowship. After doctoral studies in mathematics at the University of California Berkeley, Grzegorczyk became an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts.
"When an opportunity arises, Dr. Ivona challenges her students by allowing them to take on projects that they may have thought were beyond their grasp," said Mike Misel, a 2004 CSUCI graduate who is currently pursuing his master's degree in mathematics.
"This approach makes the student rise to the challenge and do things that they didn't know they could do. This is the true mark of a great educator. She makes people better than even they thought they could be," he said.
Grzegorczyk didn't know she wanted to study mathematics until she was an undergraduate student. She said when she was growing up she was always good at math, but it was the enjoyment of solving problems that ultimately drew her to the field.
Today, as the chair of the California State University Channel Islands Mathematics and Applied Physics Department, she continues to teach her students numbers -- but on a more complex plane. Grzegorczyk is the instructor for Algebraic Geometry & Coding, a class that couples two of her passions mathematics and art.
In 2000, Grzegorczyk authored a book titled, Mathematics and Fine Arts. Her work focuses on the mathematical rules that govern repetitious designs, like those of famous artist M.C. Escher. Many of the topics addressed in her book have become part of the 400-level class she is now teaching.
Dozens of geometric solids covered with Escher-style patterns crowd shelves in Grzegorczyk's office. These geometric solids are the product of a project assigned in the class "Algebraic Geometry & Coding." The project tasks students to seamlessly place a repeating pattern on a geometric solid.
Classes like this are one of the many reasons Grzegorczyk says she loves being part of the campus community at Cal State Channel Islands. Merging mathematics and art brings diverse students into the same classroom setting. Each group of students bring fresh perspectives to class.
"Professor Ivona taught me the history of mathematics. Mathematics can be difficult to learn, even for mathematics majors, and possibly even for mathematicians," said Nick Hann, a CSUCI senior majoring in mathematics. "She removes most, if not all, fear from the classroom."
Grzegorczyk came to CSUCI in 2002 as one of the original 13 faculty members on a brand new campus. She said she was intrigued by the possibility of building a new program. During her first years here, one of the experiences she said that was different from any of the other campuses she has worked at was the great amount of outside support that came from businesses and individuals from throughout the region.
"We all felt very welcomed here," Grzegorczyk said, adding that business people asked how they could help with the academic programs and nearly everywhere she went people were very nice and appreciative of the new University.
Likewise, Grzegorczyk said the students also have been exceptionally motivated and dedicated -- both when she began instructing at CSU Channel Islands and now.
"The students that come here are very happy to be here," she said.
This semester when Grzegorczyk is not teaching she is doing research on Vector Bundles -- a topic which she said would be hard to explain within a few sentences.
Recently she presented some of her research at a conference at the University of Hidalgo in Mexico, and this summer she will travel to Germany to report upon her work. In addition to presenting research at conferences away from the campus this summer, Grzegorczyk said there will be visitors from the University of Hidalgo for a mini conference during which they will establish cooperation between math departments, student clubs, and the exchange programs. Grzegorczyk said CSUCI math students along with students from the Spanish and Chicano clubs will be invited to attend.
Being a part of Cal State Channel Islands from the beginning is very special to Grzegorczyk. She said that any aspect of math -- curriculum development, teaching, research -- is a pleasure for her, but handling the bureaucracy that comes with development of a new program has at times also been challenging. It has been those pleasures and challenges that have made her experience at the campus invaluable.
"One hundred percent of all of our undergraduates who majored in mathematics and who
have graduated are employed," she said. "I am very proud of this, as it means that
the quality of the program is recognized by the employers and the community."