College of Science & Engineering Alumni Newsletter
Judith Ekstrand, Alumna and Faculty Member at SFSU
Ekstrand (BA ’68 and MA ’77, Mathematics) is often asked how she
first got interested in Mathematics.
If there is a cultural message that girls are not expected to like or do
well in math, she missed that message. From an early age Judith remembers
both her family and teachers telling her that she could do whatever she
set out to do. The most influential person in her choosing Mathematics
was her fifth-grade teacher, Georgia Freeman, who decided to divide the
class into groups based on their scores on a particular arithmetic test.
When Judith got 100%, Ms. Freeman put her in a “group” all by herself for
a while. Judith got the teacher’s undivided attention in this area at a
time when she also remembers having somewhat of a problem with “talking
too much in class” and “helping others with their schoolwork” – both leading
to disciplinary actions. (Team learning was frowned upon back then!) After
that class, Judith knew she wanted to be a math teacher.
College, for Judith, spanned more than twenty years – two years as a math major at UC Davis followed by one year at SFSU, a short break, and roughly eighteen more years slowly but steadily moving forward towards a BA and MA in Mathematics from SFSU, an MS in Statistics and a Ph.D. in Educational Statistics from Stanford. During that time she spent ten years as a lecturer at SFSU, teaching nine different lower-division math courses. Those were exciting times! The Math faculty at SFSU consisted of extremely gifted teachers, knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm about their own specialties. At the same time, the enormous range in ability and preparation of the students she was teaching led her to Stanford to understand more about how people actually learn mathematics. While at Stanford Judith soon learned that most research in mathematics education focused either on the elementary school or high school levels. She was interested in college level mathematics learning so her focus at Stanford changed to a specialty called Mathematical Methods of Educational Research – basically a hybrid of statistics and education. Her advisor, Ingram Olkin, was a highly regarded, prolific scholar in multivariate statistics. Working with him opened up a whole new world of statistical consulting in various disciplines including Sociology, Education, Art, and Government. While continuing to teach math at SFSU, she was now engaged almost continuously in consulting work, as well as being a single parent with three active teenagers. Judith finally finished college in August the year her first-born entered college in September.
Dr. Ekstrand’s research at Stanford focused on new statistical methodologies to validate learning hierarchies with applications to mathematics learning. These included developing and testing a linear structural equation model using correlation matrices based on math test scores of students from forty-eight states in the U.S. One recommendation for improving the way we teach math that came from that early work, namely to include more geometry, subsequently has been incorporated in the current calculus reform movement.
After earning her Ph.D., Dr. Ekstrand was hired at SFSU as an Assistant Professor within the area of Applied Mathematics. Here she serves as a bridge between the more theoretical statisticians and those working in classical applied mathematics. Most recently she has focused on medical applications of statistics. Her consulting work includes work with the Nursing Department at SFSU as well as with individuals working in other medical and psychological settings.
Dr. Ekstrand’s personal and professional lives have been very rewarding. She is blessed with three grown children – a son, an engineer who owns his own business designing and manufacturing electronics components using laser technology; a daughter who works as a high-ranking officer in the finance department of a major manufacturing company; and a son who recently completed his Ph.D. in Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and is currently finishing the clinical portion of his MD degree there. She has two lively grandchildren and another expected next spring. At SFSU she has been fortunate to work with many gifted colleagues throughout the university community to help provide an environment that fosters high quality in teaching and learning at SFSU. As an undergraduate and graduate student at SFSU, she was inspired to continue the legacy of excellence she experienced here. As a faculty member she continues to be challenged by our diverse student body. As an applied statistician, she plans to continue to encourage students and faculty in other disciplines to use and interpret statistics appropriately.
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