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Rockets and 'Rithmetic: Engineers' Tutoring Pays Off For Students

An engineer quantifies math concepts using computer parts as an example.

What do you get when you add pizza, probability, teenagers and engineers? Improved test scores, students say.

Engineers at Raytheon Missile Systems are applying their skills to tutor students as part of the company's Math Nights program in Tucson, Ariz., and the attention is paying off. More than 70 percent of students said the tutoring had raised their grades, according to surveys conducted by their schools.

"The tutors motivate me to learn more and more so I can stuff it all in my brain," student Durrell Rico said with a grin during a recent Math Night at Challenger Middle School.

Eighth-graders who retook a math test performed 57 percent better after attending the tutoring sessions, administrators at the middle school say.

The volunteers come from Tucson-based Missile Systems and are working on some of the world's greatest technical challenges, including missile defense. The adult interaction serves as an ongoing support network for the students, teachers say.

"When students come in and sit with an engineer, they ask, "What do you do at work?'" said Rita Martinez, a math teacher at Sunnyside High School. "For some students, this might be the only chance they have to talk to another adult besides their teachers."

Each engineer is paired with a small group of students in monthly sessions at the two schools. Raytheon supplies the pizza. More than 1,200 students participated during the 2012-13 school year.

The Raytheon employees work on some of the United States' most advanced defense programs, including the Standard Missile-3 and the Miniature Air Launched Decoy.

Math Nights aims to boost scores on Arizona’s standardized tests.

The sensitive nature of their work can be a challenge when thinking up real-world examples for the students, said mechanical engineer Mike Rodack.

"I think of as many unclassified scenarios as I can to frame the math problem so it will click," Rodack said. "It's amazing to see when the light goes on."

The Math Nights concept was launched by Raytheon in 2011. It comes as Sunnyside High School has been raising its scores on Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards test.

The number of sophomores passing the math section of the exam on their first attempt rose 8 percentage points from 2012 to 2013.

"We haven't ever seen an increase like that in one year," said Steve Holmes, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Sunnyside Unified School District.

For many students, Math Nights is their first introduction to exciting careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Math Nights is part of Raytheon's broader MathMovesU initiative, which aims to prevent a shortage of American engineers by promoting science, technology, engineering and math in schools.

The program includes museum exhibits like MathAlive!, the national MATHCOUNTS competition, robotics clubs and model rocketry tournaments.

"Raytheon leaders recognize how important it is to have our employees involved in the community," said Bernie Merwald, vice president of engineering for Raytheon Missile Systems and a volunteer himself. "We particularly like to emphasize math tutoring as math is the foundation for science, technology and engineering."

Published: 10/28/2014

Last Updated: 03/02/2015

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