Marquita Sea: Improving students’ views toward math

SOE’s educational psychology program provided this doctoral graduate with the theoretical background to impact change in the classroom.

Marquita Sea at VCU Commencement at the Richmond Convention Center on May 14, 2022.
Marquita Sea

Marquita Sea had been teaching mathematics at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College for 10 years when she decided to pursue a doctoral degree. She had attended Virginia Union University for her undergraduate degrees and Virginia State University for her master’s degree, so the idea of attending a different institution for her doctorate was very appealing.

VCU was her first and only choice. The problem was, at the time there were no doctoral programs in VCU’s Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics in pure mathematics.

“I had always loved math, but even as an undergrad majoring in math, I wasn’t exactly sure what I would do with the degree,” she said. Sea’s mathematics adviser at Virginia Union, Miss Richmond, had recommended majoring in secondary education as a backup plan because she was a huge proponent of teaching and education.

“That’s one reason why I earned an associate major in secondary education,” Sea said. “Even in ninth and 10th grade at Thomas Jefferson High School, I was hanging out in teachers’ classes, helping other students with their math. It came naturally to me, even though I didn’t necessarily associate it with teaching. I was just helping people.”

With VCU a firm choice for her doctorate, she looked at the School of Education.

“A lot of students broadcast their dislike for math, and I wanted to know more about that,” she said. “The Ph.D. in Education with a concentration in Educational Psychology really stood out to me, because I could make [that program] about what I wanted, about students’ views and beliefs and how they understand math.”

Sea received her Ph.D. in Education diploma at commencement on May 14. Her dissertation was titled “Improving College Students’ Views and Beliefs Relative to Mathematics: A Systematic Literature Review followed by A Multiple Case Mixed Methods Exploration of the Experiences That Underpin Community College Students’ Attitudes, Self-Efficacy, and Values in Mathematics.” She chose the topic specifically because she wanted to positively impact her students’ views and beliefs about mathematics.

“I continuously hear students talk about their dislike for math and how hard and challenging it is,” she said. “I definitely wanted [the dissertation] to deal with their views and beliefs. I would love for math achievement outcomes and students' interest in math to be greatly improved beyond current estimates.”

Sea plans to conduct further study into the views of the community college population, with the ultimate goal being to improve students’ attitude toward mathematics.

Christine Bae, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Foundations of Education and Sea’s dissertation chair, said that Sea’s scholarship is rooted in important problems of practice that she knows first-hand.

“Working day in and day out as an associate professor of mathematics at J. Sergeant Reynolds Community College, she has a vested interest in better understanding how professors can support students in math,” Bae said. “Her mixed methods dissertation findings make an important contribution to the literature, showing how a complex combination of students’ characteristics, learning experiences, and cultural contexts influence how they enter college math courses, with important implications for practice.”

Her work in the doctoral program has positioned Sea well for the future.

“Previously, I was looking more into how students’ experiences relate to their views and beliefs. Now, I know a lot more about the theory behind those students’ views and beliefs, and I have the tools to back it up,” she said. “I’m also better prepared to impact change at Reynolds, or anywhere else, by helping my colleagues understand where these views might come from.”

Even as many students continue to find math a difficult subject to grasp, Sea – who is also the mathematics program lead at Reynolds – still finds her greatest satisfaction in the classroom.

“In the last three weeks, I’ve had many emails from students, saying how they came into my class despising math, and were afraid to take it,” she said. “Then they tell me that I've made them feel so comfortable that they’re ready to take another math class.”

“Just seeing that I’m making an impact on students’ views of math – that means the world to me.”