A Math Class That Multiplies Student Success

Instructor and students studying on the same table in the library

A Math Class That Multiplies Student Success

Posted 2-15-16


Professor Howard Schwartzberg
with Mohamed Yasien

They call him “Professor S.,” but for students of Howard Schwartzberg, the “S” could stand for success. They come to his Math Prep class for help with their math skills, but leave with much more: A stronger work ethic, increased self-confidence, and solid proof that they can succeed.

“I get down into their soul,” says Professor Schwartzberg, whose often humorous tactics include posters with inspirational quotes, anecdotes about people who succeeded against the odds, and constant one-on-one encouragement to instill in students the belief that they can succeed.

“This class can change your life,” the professor tells his students, and two of his recent success stories prove that prediction.

Mohamed Yasien came to PCCC directly after his 2015 graduation from JFK High School in Paterson.  Juan Salazar is an adult learner and pharmaceutical professional  whose high school days are over a decade behind him. 

Both started PCCC in need of help to achieve college-level math status, and both have not only reached their goal, but also exceeded expectations.

“Mohamed is the first student to go from Math Prep class to college-level math,” said Professor Schwartzberg. “He did very well and skipped the other classes.”

Students whose score on the Math Placement Test indicate they need to improve their math skills are placed in Professor Schwartzberg’s Math Prep class. Typically, these students would progress through Math Developmental courses, but if they get a grade of at least A- in Math Prep, they become eligible for Math Boot Camp, an intense 7-day,
3-hours daily study of more advanced algebraic concepts.

Afterwards, they may re-take the math placement test and, with a passing grade, become eligible to enroll in college-level math classes.

Like Mohamed, Juan progressed faster than expected, going to Boot Camp directly from Math Prep and then on to Math 010A, completing Boot Camp. and then scoring high enough on the math placement test for be eligible for college-level math. 

“Professor S. is a great teacher. He won’t give up on you,” said Mohamed. The future business major said he scored only 25 in arithmetic and 0 in algebra the first time he took the placement test.

A minimum score of 76 is required for college-level math. When Mohamed repeated the test, after working with Professor Schwartzberg, he scored a 92. “I was very proud that my score was so high,” he said. “I even surprised myself, but Professor S. made me believe I could do it.”

Through motivational quotes, humor, and consistent encouragement, the professor conveys to students his firm belief that with hard work, everyone can succeed. 

“When students see that they can succeed at solving a math problem, they become more confident in their ability to succeed at other things, said Professor Schwartzberg. Ultimately, this can create a cycle of success that impacts all aspects of their lives.

“The way Professor S. teaches can work for anyone in any field,” says Juan “It’s not just about math. It’s about giving your best to whatever you are doing and getting the most out of it and out of life.”

Juan Salazar is all smiles at his
Math Boot Camp success.

A part-time student who is working toward his degree in occupational physical therapy, Juan attended high school in his native Colombia, but feels he lacked the maturity and confidence at that time to benefit from school. “I didn’t have much expectation for my future,” he explains.

Professor Schwartzberg’s methods made a difference for him. “I learned to face my fears,” said Juan, repeating one of his professor’s motivational mantras: “When you’re trying to do your best, there’s no time to think about failure.”

For Juan, the success he achieved through hard work and personal accountability has made him happier and more self assured. “I work more efficiently in school and on the job” he said. “I feel more alive.”

“If I could say one thing to other students it would be this,” said Juan. “I did it, and you can do it too. You can succeed.”


Visit Professor Schwartzberg’s website: A Student Whisperer