Mary Alice Brookins is a retired professor of mathematics who has dedicated her career to ensuring that her students receive thorough and meaningful mathematics and technology instruction. One of seven children in a family that prized education, Ms. Brookins’ greatest inspiration was her parents’ early insistence that schooling and study were the keys to long-term success in life. At a young age, she discovered not just an aptitude for mathematics, but a passion for the subject that would set the tone for the rest of her career. She graduated from Jackson State University in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and began teaching math at the middle school level for a local district while completing graduate-level coursework at Atlanta University. In 1962, Ms. Brookins was awarded a Master of Science in mathematics by Atlanta University, and accepted a position as a professor of mathematics at Mississippi Valley State College, where she remained through 1965.
Toward the end of the decade, Ms. Brookins relocated to Massachusetts to begin training in the emerging field of computer programming. Interested in expanding her skill set and employment opportunities, she spent the next three years studying programming, taking naturally to the discipline due to her background in math and her focus on logic and reasoning as the core of the subject. Immersed in the civil rights movement of the early 1970s, Ms. Brookins began to network with other African American academics in the Boston area and at neighboring colleges. The prevailing attitude toward teaching was that educators, particularly educators of color and those serving students affected by systemic discrimination, had an obligation to pass on their skills and knowledge to the next generation as a form of community empowerment. Ms. Brookins took this concept to heart, and it shaped her approach to practice for the remainder of her career.
In 1971, Ms. Brookins was invited to teach undergraduate-level mathematics at Jackson State University. Building on her computer programming experience and her commitment to student-centered education, she was determined to integrate computer technology into the mathematics curriculum and work to upgrade the university’s sole mainframe computer. She spent the summer of 1979 working with the staff at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where she was introduced to more advanced microcomputer technology. Strategizing how she might be able to get a microcomputer for her students to use, Ms. Brookins secured a $375,000 grant from the Southern Education Foundation for Jackson State University’s mathematics department, which allowed the purchase of 10 microcomputers for the school’s laboratory. Though the software infrastructure was limited, Ms. Brookins’ work functionally established the school’s first computer laboratory and pioneered an innovative, cross-disciplinary algebra curriculum that was a precursor to contemporary STEM education.
Ms. Brookins retired from Jackson State University in 1987 to care for her elderly mother, and has focused on providing individual tutoring to students since her retirement. She has guided students through college preparatory work and offered supplemental tutoring to others hoping to apply to postgraduate programs, but mostly enjoys what she describes as “guiding people who need to advance their education.” This has included high school re-engagement, GED preparation, and teaching to fill in gaps in a student’s prior K-12 or homeschool education.
Ms. Brookins explains that “without a reasonable education, life becomes a lot harder,” and she is insistent about the value of mathematics education for people in all occupations, describing it as a way to understand how to reason, understand the world, and prepare to learn other disciplines. In addition to private tutoring, she also volunteers for Planned Parenthood, the American Red Cross, and the American Cancer Society, and hopes to establish a tutoring and technology facility in her local community. Ms. Brookins is a former member of the Mathematical Association of America and remains involved with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.