Alumna wins regional math education student award

Sarah Michelle Holmes, who graduated from Western Carolina University in May, has been named the Outstanding Mathematics Education Student for the western region of the state by the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Sarah Holmes

Sarah Holmes

Now a mathematics teacher at the Johnston County Early College Academy, Holmes accepted the award at NCCTM’s annual conference held in late October in Greensboro. WCU students and alumni have been named winners of the honor for 25 of the last 28 years.

Holmes’ academic achievements, teaching ability and involvement with student organizations and WCU’s chapter of NCCTM led WCU faculty to nominate her for the honor.

At WCU, she was a member of the Honors College and graduated magna cum laude (with high honors) in May with bachelor’s degrees in secondary mathematics education and mathematics.

“Whether she was solving difficult geometry problems, working on unusual problems that required extensive mathematical reasoning or writing lesson plans for high school mathematics classes, Sarah’s work was always outstanding,” said Kathy Jaqua, associate professor of mathematics and computer science.

Holmes’ study of the 19th-century controversy of using Euclid’s “Elements” as the main source for teaching geometry in England was selected to be presented at the sixth Smoky Mountain Undergraduate Research Conference on the History of Mathematics.

In addition, Holmes’ teaching ability is top-notch, said Jaqua, who observed Holmes teaching at Macon Early College as part of an internship.

“Her careful and thorough work in planning her lessons made her teaching seem almost effortless when she was in the classroom,” said Jaqua. “She had great rapport with her students, could answer their questions, would challenge them to reason independently and in small groups, and managed the class to encourage student engagement.”

At the school, Holmes also worked with a science intern to start a club called “Women’s Wednesdays” to help empower girls with discussions about topics such as body image, positive relationships, how to apply for financial aid and how to balance a checkbook.

On campus, she served as president of the WCU chapter of NCCTM and as a student representative for the NCCTM Board of Directors in 2013-14.

Holmes said she has wanted to be a teacher since childhood. After teaching herself mathematical concepts in pre-algebra in eighth grade, she enjoyed helping her classmates. Her later experience in “Advanced Placement Calculus” confirmed her interest in the field.

“I enjoyed this class immensely, and I thought that I could really make a positive impact through teaching students math,” she said.

What she enjoys is seeing the “aha” expression on students’ faces when a concept or method they struggled to understand finally makes sense, she said.

“I love seeing that sense of excitement from the students when they’ve understood something they previously thought was inconceivable,” said Holmes. “My students enrich my life and I hope that I enrich theirs as well – not only through teaching mathematical concepts, but also through believing in them and empowering them.”

After growing up primarily in Memphis, Tennessee, and Columbia, South Carolina, Holmes graduated from Franklin High School in 2010. She is the daughter of Franklin residents Bradley and Rebecca Martin.

Each year, the NCCTM professional organization recognizes student from each of the western, central and eastern regions of the state. Recognition is based on the student’s grade-point average and involvement in NCCTM and campus and community activities.