The University of Arizona

Alumni Early Career Profiles - Jennifer Christian Smith

Name: Jennifer Christian Smith
Education: B.S., Mathematics Education, The University of Arizona, 1995
B.A., Anthropology, The University of Arizona, 1995
Ph.D., Mathematics, The University of Arizona, 2002
Position: Assistant Professor
Science and Mathematics Education
University of Texas at Austin
Sector: Education / Academia


Since 2002, I have been an assistant professor of mathematics education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) at the University of Texas at Austin. I conduct research, teach two courses each semester, and advise graduate students, among other things. Positions in Colleges of Education usually require public school teaching experience. I taught high school mathematics for two years in Arizona prior to starting a graduate program in mathematics.

I teach courses about teaching for pre-service high school science and mathematics teachers and a mathematics “capstone” course for pre-service mathematics teachers, which emphasizes the connections between undergraduate and high school mathematics. I also teach courses for graduate students in mathematics and science education: a course on technology in classrooms and a course on reasoning, justification, and argumentation. My research focuses on the teaching and learning of mathematical proof. A deep understanding of mathematics across the curriculum is necessary in order to think about how people learn concepts and about how we might best teach those concepts. I also serve as a consultant for the state of Texas in issues related to mathematics education. For example, I am on a committee that reviews and approves the problems on the state's mathematics exams — a job I take very seriously.

University positions in mathematics education require a doctorate in mathematics or mathematics education; these positions can be held in different departments on campus. In mathematics departments, mathematics education professors typically teach undergraduate courses designed for teachers, while in C&I departments, professors teach courses about teaching and learning mathematics. Either would likely be involved in supervising student teachers. In 1995, I earned a B.S. in mathematics education and a B.A. in anthropology. In 2002 I earned a Ph.D. in mathematics. All of these degrees were from the University of Arizona. My background in anthropology has been helpful in my research, since what I do could be considered ethnography (i.e., study of culture) of mathematics classrooms. Teaching experience is also very valuable.

I would encourage anyone who wants to teach mathematics at the college level to consider pursuing a degree in mathematics education. The job market is very good and the work is extremely rewarding. Graduate degrees in mathematics education can be earned in departments of mathematics, as well as through Colleges of Education. Interested students should examine both options to decide which is best for them.