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UAS Faculty Donations for Math Add Up Professors Seek Help to Endow Ron Seater Math Award

When Ron Seater finished high school, he couldn’t read or write and didn’t understand math. He struggled silently with a learning disability, slipped through the cracks and out the door.

Juneau, Alaska

Date of Press Release: January 16, 2020

Ron Seater talks about the inspiration behind the Learning Center during a conversation with math faculty in the UAS Egan Library Nov. 21, 2019 in Juneau, Alaska. (credit: UAS/Seanna O'Sullivan)
Ron Seater talks about the inspiration behind the Learning Center during a conversation with math faculty in the UAS Egan Library Nov. 21, 2019 in Juneau, Alaska. (credit: UAS/Seanna O'Sullivan)

When Ron Seater finished high school, he couldn’t read or write and didn’t understand math. He struggled silently with a learning disability, slipped through the cracks and out the door.

“I quickly realized that to go on in life, I would need to figure out what was going on, so I taught myself how to read. Then I realized I had to understand rudimentary math, so I taught myself that too.” said Seater. His plan to memorize formulas failed when he realized there was simply too much to memorize. What he did notice were patterns, so he developed a set of rules based on those patterns. Later as a math professor, he shared his discovery with his students, often writing out each homework assignment and exam by hand.

“I didn’t emphasize the name of what the formula was, but why it worked the way it did. If you understand why you do things, you don’t have to memorize rules,” said Seater who encouraged his students to make their own discoveries, collaborate outside of classroom hours in the Egan Library and offer tutoring opportunities to fellow classmates. This model of creating an intentional space for students explore math developed into the UAS Learning Center located in the Juneau campus Egan Library.

Seater’s unconventional approach to learning led to an unconventional way of teaching and a reputation for excellence and a legacy that lives on through the Ron Seater Math Award. The award was established by fellow math faculty upon his retirement and given to UAS students who have demonstrated excellence in the field of mathematics. It also created the beginning of what is now the UAS Learning Center.

Now after 10 years of dedicated private donations, UAS faculty are asking for help to endow the fund, which is just $5,000 from the $25,000 minimum endowment level. Endowing would allow the award to be self-sustained, unaffected by the state budget allocation, and would allow the interest earnings to double the award to a minimum $1,000 a year.

Chris Hay-Jahans is a current UAS Professor of Mathematics and dedicated donor to the fund. 

“The more we give to the fund, the more time students have to pay for books, focus on studies and possibly work in the Learning Center. Working in the Learning Center provides valuable tutoring and teaching experience and continuous review of material. It also helps them hone their skills in communicating mathematics,” said Hay-Jahans.

Seater admits his approach can be frustrating for students who just plan to learn one method because he never teaches the same exact way from one day to the next. “I don’t know THE way, I know one way and another way but I don’t know which way you’ll see it.”

But time and again he has heard from students who thank him for holding high standards and ensuring they gain confidence in their own unique approach to problem solving. His advice to teachers, particularly at the elementary school level, is to be open minded, let students find a path that works for them, and remember that there is more than one way to solve a problem.

“If they only memorize one way then they don’t know why they are doing it. Every brain works differently so you may see it one way when I see another,” says Seater. “There’s always more than one way to solve a problem and all are correct.”

Two students whose UAS degrees in mathematics launched careers

Mikayla Martinez, Ph.D.

Mikayla Martinez, Ph.D. is an infectious disease ecologist who also earned her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics before earning her Ph.D at Princeton and going on to work as Assistant Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia.

Dr. Martinez returned to UAS as a guest lecturer sharing her research on how climate change is impacting public health.

“I am now giving back by teaching one of the first classes on The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health to help prepare our next generation of health leaders to promote environmental stewardship,” said Dr. Martinez.

Joshua Galbraith

Joshua Galbraith is a software engineer who graduated from UAS in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. He credits the math skills he learned at UAS for helping him land his first job the day after graduation and launch his own data platform. Originally from Sitka, he’s now a senior software engineer for New Relic in Portland, Oregon.

“Leading a team of engineers is exciting for me. The skills I picked up in my math classes at UAS apply more and more as I advance along in my career path,” said Galbraith. The UAS math program is exceptional given the size of the school and there is no better place to contribute meaningfully towards a better future. Building an endowment like the Ron Seater Math Award is an investment that will make a difference in the lives of students.”

The UAS Ron Seater Math Award is a merit-based award for UAS students who are majoring in mathematics or who have a minor in math. The award has been established through generous support of UAS faculty and staff and is named in honor of UAS Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Ron Seater, who taught from 1984–2008 (24 years).

Private funds donated to the university are dedicated to the purpose indicated by donors and not subject to budget cuts.

Thanks to the generosity of UAS faculty and staff, the fund is $5,000 away from reaching endowment. Endowing the fund will generate an annual $1,000 scholarship for a deserving math student.

Learn more about math and other degree programs available at UAS or speak to an advisor at (907) 796-6100.  Make a gift and help make the Ron Seater Math Award self-sustained and double the amount that has typically been awarded.  

Additional Resources

Press Release Contact

Keni Campbell
University of Alaska Southeast
(907) 796-6509
klcampbell4@alaska.edu