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Alumni spotlight: Ramona Gunter

February 28, 2017

Ramona Gunter is an instructor of mathematics at UW-River Falls, serving as the director of the remedial math department and teaching remedial math courses such as Introductory and Intermediate Algebra.

Having taught at UWRF for almost a decade, she has also studied physics, education and even cultural anthropology, which gives her a unique perspective on education.

As a first-generation student, Gunter came to River Falls following her sister’s footsteps in going to college. She didn’t know what to expect at first, but over time came to love the campus. Double majoring in math and physics, she participated in intramural sports and also enjoyed participating in residence hall activities.

One interesting aspect about Gunter’s career is her broad range of experiences she’s had after graduating from UWRF, taking on roles that were “all over the map.”

During her senior year, she worked at 3M, a common place for science students to work for while getting their degree. After she graduated in 1986, she volunteered for the Peace Corps, teaching math and science in the African nation of Lesotho.

Lesotho is an enclave, surrounded by South Africa, that at the time was still under apartheid. One interesting insight that she gained from her experience was the different cultural perspectives, specifically within the children that she taught during her tenure. She said was intrigued by how the children viewed the concept of school differently than her, and this helped inspire her to learn more about cultural differences around the world.

After Gunter finished her work with the Peace Corps, she attend graduate school at Purdue University, where her experience in Lesotho and South Africa inspired her to study anthropology. She would later move on to work as a research assistant at UW-Madison, where she helped conduct education research in math and science. She eventually graduated with a Ph.D. in education policy in 2007.

Gunter has taken multiple teaching positions throughout her career, including teaching at a prison for a year and working on teacher workshops. The American Association of University Women gave her a fellowship to fund her dissertation. Having recently started a family, she decided to come back to River Falls to finish her dissertation.

What Gunter said she enjoys about this campus are the small class sizes offered. She said that the ability to have professors instructing the classes and labs rather than teaching assistants helps bring students closer to understanding topics, giving experiences that larger institutions are unable to match.

“I always wonder what it would have been like if I had gone to a larger school,” Gunter said.

She recalled one time when she interpreted a physics question differently than was intended on an exam. She was given credit for her answer despite her different perspective. Had she had been in a larger class with a more standardized test, she might have not been given the same credit.

“I realized that if I had been with 200 students doing a multiple choice exam graded by Scantron without anyone looking over it,” she explained, “I would have not stayed in my major.”

While math and science have always been her strong suits, it’s the culture component that helps bond Gunter’s work together. Citing her work as a researcher, she conducted qualitative research interviewing students on their experiences, gaining feedback on variables such as new engineering courses. She said she finds that understanding different perspectives and meanings in education can help students learn more effectively.

“I think how students engage in their academic studies, and what makes it meaningful for them, are social-cultural questions, and that interests me,” Gunter said.

For advice, Gunter said students should never shy away from intimidating courses, because they’re an opportunity to study “anything and everything.”

“I think that it’s a great opportunity to get to know your teachers and your professors in a small class setting,” she said. “So take advantage of the personal setting that you have available.”