Integrating culture, tradition and … math

Stavros Stavrou, 2014 recipient of the USSU Young Alumni Excellence Award

Stavros Stavrou, 2014 recipient of the USSU Young Alumni Excellence Award

With the simple logic and efficiency you would expect from a mathematician, Stavros Stavrou (BSc’10, MSc’12) explained that if you want to teach math, you should study math and education.

“I was always good at math, and I like to teach,” said Stavrou, the 2014 recipient of the USSU Young Alumni Excellence Award.

Having already obtained his bachelors and master of science degrees in mathematics from the U of S, Stavrou is now working toward a master of education degree in hopes of earning a university faculty position.

Stavrou is already well on his way in his teaching career. As the science outreach leader for PotashCorp’s Kameskenow program and for the College of Arts and Science’s outreach office, he helps deliver fun and engaging math and science activities. His job is to keep students at Saskatoon community schools on task and focused, which can require a fresh outlook on traditional teaching and an innovative approach to its delivery.

He is also the First Nations, Inuit and Métis math outreach coordinator for the Department of Mathematics at the U of S, teaching math in Saskatoon community schools that have a broad range of students.

How is teaching math to Aboriginal students different? “It’s approaching things from a different perspective. They have ways of living and knowing that are different, that aren’t necessarily a western perspective.” So, to make lessons interesting and relatable takes a unique approach.

“I lift things from their culture that they would be familiar with. So, in geometry, for shapes we can relate to a tipi—the base is a circle, and the object is a cone. Or the medicine wheel, which is a circle; so we’re connecting with their tradition.”

Stavrou works closely with teachers, elders and other community leaders to create activities and lesson plans that connect the math curriculum to traditional First Nations, Inuit and Métis teaching and culture.

With the help of Cree teacher Norma Bear (BEd’93), Stavrou is not just incorporating symbols and traditions into teaching. The pair is working together to incorporate Cree language into the math program at St. Frances School in Saskatoon. Their work was showcased at a First Nation’s Language Keepers Conference in 2013, and Stavrou was awarded a certificate for his work as a language keeper.

“We’re learning to count in Cree, to know the different Cree characters for the numerals,” said Stavrou. “It expands their language and what they know about their culture. I’ve started saying them too, but I don’t know all of them yet.” And the children point out he has a different accent.

Demand for Stavrou to be in more classrooms is growing, and he is confident the temporary funding will continue to allow more instructors to work with more teachers in more schools. And they may just inspire the next generation of students who are good math and enjoy teaching.

Stavrou will receive his award at the annual USSU award reception on March 30.

Learn more about the USSU Young Alumni Excellence Award

Brier bound

Steve Laycock Photo by Michael Burns (CCA)

Steve Laycock Photo by Michael Burns (CCA)

By day, Steve Laycock (BComm’07) is a soft-spoken compensation specialist in the Human Resources Division at the U of S but after work, you’ll find him calling the shots— loudly—for this province’s very best men’s curling team.

Laycock beat defending provincial champion Brock Virtue Feb. 2 in Shaunavon to earn the right to represent Saskatchewan at the highest level of curling in Canada, the Tim Hortons Brier which will be held March 1-9 in Kamloops, B.C. For Laycock, it will be his fourth attempt at the national title, having curled on Saskatchewan’s Brier team in 2007, 2008 and again in 2011. Shortly before heading to Kamloops, Laycock shared his thoughts on his history in the sport of curling, on what keeps him returning to the ice and on the perfect ending to the 2014 Brier.

On learning to curl

I started curling when I was in Grade 4 with my mom, dad and my brother in a family league in Saltcoats. I remember that I’d throw my two rocks and go back inside to play because it was cold out there on the ice. Then I’d come back out, throw my two rocks and go back inside. I was lead but I moved up to skip pretty quickly, which was good for my learning although my history of sweeping is pretty limited. My interest was really piqued when my older brother made it to the Canada Winter Games final. Even before I went to high school, I was invited to practice with the Yorkton high school team but I was ineligible to play. In high school, I played football and baseball but curling was my passion.

On the appeal of the game

I think what I like most is the combination of skill, strategy and mental toughness that it takes. You can actually achieve victories by out thinking your opponent. You need to always remain calm but you also have to be strategic.

On putting together a team

What I look for in teammates is really work ethic. Talent only gets you so far; you need people who can reach their potential, not just have potential. On the team we have now, I actually raise the average age quite a bit and I’m only 31. The others are 22, 23 and 26 and we really have a bit of a family feel because two are bothers (Kirk and Dallan Muryes) and their dad’s our coach. (The fourth member of the team is Colton Flasch.) You also need people who can balance their personal and professional lives. Curling is kind of tough—you’re able to win a bit of money and have some sponsorships but it’s not enough that any of us could consider quitting our full-time jobs. Then, as a team, you have to have enough fun and success that people want to stick with it.

On curling at a world level

In 2003 we won the World Junior Curling Championship in Switzerland. It was a lot of pressure but actually, I found the provincials tougher. I’d spent my whole career up to that point trying to win provincials as a junior so when we actually made it to worlds, the expectation part wasn’t there and we just went out and performed. (Laycock also represented the U of S at the 2007 Winter Universiade in Italy)

On the Olympics

I’ve been in two Olympic trials, in 2009 and this past fall, and my name is out there but I’m really looking at the 2017 trials for the 2018 Olympics.

On the athletics of curling

I think people could potentially have said curlers weren’t athletes before curling was admitted into the Olympics. There is still an old guard out there, guys who are in their 50s, but an 11-game round robin takes physical endurance and you have to be in good shape.

On training to curl

We all have individual trainers and a team trainer. When I’m training I work on legs, cardio, core strength and balance but I also do yoga, which is really about preventing injury and maintaining flexibility. The breathing you learn in yoga is also helpful for handling pressure.

On curling and work

We do about 20 events a year and maybe three are in Saskatchewan so there’s a lot of flying and driving. I do some work on the road and make up for days away from the office at other times of the year. Almost all of my holidays go toward curling; I’ve taken some extra-long weekends in the summer but I haven’t had a chance to take an extended summer holiday since I started working at the university in 2007.

On the most memorable rock

It was the final stone of the world juniors against Sweden. It was just an in-turn take out in extra ends and all I had to do was hit and stick. It was not the most exciting rock but I think it was the most rewarding.

On coaches and sport psychologists

Our coach is great at helping with organizing schedules and team meetings. It’s important that we’re all on the same page about rock selection, ice conditions, our game plan. Our sport psychologist focuses on our on-ice communication and team dynamic. No one player can know everything going on out there so we really need to work as a collective and that’s where communication on the ice is so important.

On the Brier

We’ve seen the draw and we’ll play a couple of teams that wouldn’t be labeled favourites early on in the week so I think we have the opportunity to get off to a good start. That’s particularly good for the younger members of the team as they get used to the pressure of a national competition.

On various opponents

We don’t have a different plan for each team we play. We have our primary game plan and then we consider what we know about the other teams, how they’re probably going to approach the game and how that’s going to impact our plan.

On the perfect ending to the Brier I think playing Alberta in the final would be interesting. One of my former teammates is playing third for Alberta so that would be a lot of fun, and it would be an entertaining game for the fans.

On wearing a microphone during national broadcasts

We’re all mic’d at the Brier and you get used to it. Usually I totally forget I’m wearing it. And I don’t think I’ve inadvertently said anything I regret, not loudly anyway.

On fans in the stands

My wife will be there but not my son—a two-year-old just wouldn’t make it through the week in the stands and then my wife wouldn’t get the chance to see us play. My mom and dad will be there, my aunt and uncle and maybe one of my brothers—he’s working on it. And of course anyone else who wants to cheer on Saskatchewan.

This article was originally published in On Campus News.

An executive’s perspective of a university

RomanowMarvinFor about a year now, Marvin Romanow (BE’77, MBA’80) has been sharing his insight on business and management with the campus community.

Romanow, based in the Edwards School of Business as the first-ever executive in residence, initially spent time getting a feel for the university and the potential scope of the position.

“When you do something for the first time, you have a pretty broad canvas and a university is a great place for that,” said Romanow, who has an extensive business and management background, specifically in the oil and gas sectors, and was most recently president and CEO of Nexen, an international energy corporation.

“Universities draw people with unique perspectives and experiences to help students and campuses progress,” said Romanow, adding that he is excited to be back at the U of S—
where he received an engineering  degree and an MBA—and contribute to this progress anyway he can.

“I’ve been here for about a year, and spend one week every month on campus. We wanted it to be low-key at the start to see what the interest level was, so I went across campus and started by introducing myself around.”

Shortly thereafter, the invitations started to roll in.

“I have been doing a lot of different things,” explained Romanow. “I have contact with students, both in and out of the classroom, and share my experience in business and management. Faculty invite me to their classes to share my view on particular topics.”

Some of the subjects Romanow has covered include how corporations finance their activities, how they manage risk, how they gather and use data, and labour relations and energy issues, which “are quite broad and can include everything from society use, environmental issues and international topic.”

Another topic that frequently comes up, especially with students, is how to manage a career.

“One of the more common topics I cover is ‘how to run a career as a marathon not a sprint.’ Students are very interested in career advice.”

To his surprise, Romanow has even been invited on a number of occasions to speak one-on-one with college deans to provide counsel on managing a school.

“Deans are selected because of their stellar research and academic backgrounds, usually in their mid-to-late 40s. At that point, they often don’t have a lot of management skills. Management is a different skill set than teaching and research; there is a tiny bit of overlap, but not much. Deans are like presidents of little subsidiaries and I can give them perspective on managing in that environment.”

Academic institutions, he continued, are not easy to manage for various reasons, including tenure, unions and academic freedom, all of which “are really important, but change how you can manage a school.”

Some of the topics Romanow discusses with the deans who contact him, include assessing the environment they manage, understanding why individuals react in certain ways in those environments, and how to improve personal effectiveness based on what is happening in the college.

“Those are the topics I can speak to and those are also the topics deans typically want my point of view on.”

During these discussions, Romanow is sure that the line between post-secondary education and business management is not blurred. “I don’t think universities should operate like a business because they are fundamentally different.”

A business, he explained, is a limited-purpose organization that provides goods or services that society needs or wants and does so while expropriating some value for its capital providers.

“There is a collective goal, such as to make a product for half the price of a competitor,” said Romanow, adding that universities, by comparison, have a broad mandate around teaching and research and do not expropriate value for stakeholders.

“Obviously they are very different so I think a business mindset would be a mistake, but universities can learn from some business practices that are useful to them.”

There are two such practices in particular that Romanow sees as critical to university operation: collaboration and efficiency.

“In all my conversations I always encourage collaboration towards collective outcomes. Collaboration is critical to business because we have to interpret all of these (diverse) issues and nobody is an expert on everything. Universities tend to be more solitary and lonely. Breakthroughs come from different disciplines collaborating. For example, medical instruments need engineering and medicine.”

Romanow would also like to see some research directed to “policy makers and practitioners. Universities unfolded to advance knowledge of civilization, and that’s great, but what if 10 per cent (of the research) was pursued to be directly useful to policy makers and practitioners?”

He believes that the university setting may be one of the last unbiased places positioned to help government and industry with major public-policy issues like carbon emissions, tax policy or how to structure royalties in resource industries. “Academic freedom is a big gift that universities possess and as a result they have a responsibility to apply at least some of their resources directly to public-policy issues.”

On the efficiency front, Romanow said that universities are “really good at starting things, but not stopping things. Universities are slow to change. There are programs still offered that are no longer relevant and barely have any students enrolled.”

Romanow, retired but still a consultant and a member of various boards, said he enjoys his new role but only time will tell how long he stays in it.

“I can’t say how long we (will) do this. That will be determined by the importance and usefulness of the role to the university, colleges, students and faculty. I think it is important to help form young minds and bodies into the leadership of society. Universities have a high purpose in society, and helping them fulfill this from a practitioner’s point of view is a privilege.”

Daphne Taras, dean of the Edwards School of Business, said an executive in residence program is important because it “builds partnerships between top business leaders and our school. I was delighted to bring someone with Marvin’s business and management experience into this role.

“He already has provided incredible learning opportunities for Edwards students, faculty and staff. We hope the entire campus community benefits from his appointment,” said Taras.

This article was originally published in On Campus News.