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Math Club sends textbooks to students in Sierra Leone

April 5, 2017

Don Leake taught math at UW-River Falls for 30 years, but retiring has not stopped him from teaching. In the 1970s, he served in the Peace Corps as a secondary school teacher in Zaire, Africa, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Leake and his wife Ann have currently returned to the continent. Now, he’s a university instructor in Sierra Leone as part of the Peace Corps once again.

Due to a lack of academic resources in Sierra Leone, Leake reached out to Mathematics Chair Kathy Tomlinson to assist in sending unused math textbooks to the university. After agreeing to help, Tomlinson decided to recruit the help of the UWRF Math Club.

“I was hoping to raise the Math Club’s global awareness by involving them in the project,” Tomlinson said.

In order to test out possible new textbooks for courses, publishing companies will send a student and teacher copy to the department. When the books are not chosen to used, the sample books are kept. Between these sample books and course textbooks that are retired after new sets replace them, the department is left with a selection of unused resources.

“Don called it the ‘book graveyard,’” Tomlinson said.

Beginning in February, the Math Club members chose a variety of textbooks, along with some solution manuals from the “book graveyard” in North Hall.

“We had so much fun picking out the books,” Bailey Pierskalla, the Math Club treasurer, recalled.

Leake offered to pay for $500 worth of shipping costs, so the club members had to research shipment prices and associated package weights to see how many books they could send for that price. After multiple visits to the post office for package weighing and finding sturdy boxes to use, they decided to send the books in a few separate boxes.

Pierskalla explained that shipments to Third World areas can be tampered with by third-party shipping companies overseas, so they made sure to label the packages “school supplies” to deter meddling. According to Pierskalla, 15 textbooks in total were sent and could take as long as two months to arrive, but Tomlinson confirmed that one of the packages with six books in it has already been received.

The Math Club at UWRF had died out a couple of years ago, but it was revived at the beginning of this year. This resurrection has already gained ground, earning the club around 15 regular members.

This month, it will gather even more traction by holding an “Integration Bee” on Thursday, April 20, where participants will race to solve calculus integrals.

“A couple of people have already signed up,” Pierskalla said, adding that the Math Club is a “really good community,” — a claim that the students in Sierra Leone may surely agree with.

For more information about Leake’s experience teaching in Sierra Leone, visit his blog at Leonkade.blogspot.com.