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APSU professor serving as lifeline to Jamaican math students and teachers

By: Colby Wilson June 7, 2024


Dr. Jackie Vogel, chair and professor of APSU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, with Samuel Duke, a teacher at Bustamante High School in Jamaica.

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. - When Dr. Jackie Vogel heads down to Jamaica, it’s not time for relaxing on the beach, sipping a mai-tai and watching the waves roll in.

It’s time to get to work.

For several years now, Vogel, the chair of Austin Peay State University’s (APSU) Department of Mathematics and Statistics, has made annual treks to the island as part of an outreach program at local schools, usually as a study abroad service project involving several Austin Peay students.

She was unable to make her usual January visit this year alongside Austin Peay students but instead went in April. That fortuitous timing coincided with a math festival and an opportunity to open a dialogue with the University of the West Indies (UWI), where she was invited to give presentations to faculty and students.

Vogel has become a practiced hand at figuring out how she can have the greatest impact on the lives and educations of those she meets, and she emphasized that it doesn’t take much to have a big impact.

“Take [retired APSU math professor] Dr. Floyd Christian,” she said. “He’d read a previous story on one of our Jamaica trips and got in touch with me asking how he could help. He gave $50 to the Foundation account; I turned that into a trophy for their math contest, some medals for the students and a bunch of school supplies and socks; the socks were because the rule at these schools is that you have to be in complete uniform to go to school and the last time we were down there I met a little girl who had taken her shoes off to dance and the bottom of her socks had such a large hole in them, I don’t even know how they stayed on her feet … Floyd did this huge amazing thing with just a tiny bit of money.”

In addition to the supplies, Vogel commissioned Dr. Mike Wilson at the GIS Center to recreate a destroyed banner for the school. It displays all the jobs on the island that require a basic understanding of math concepts.

Vogel’s main goal on these trips is to highlight the promise of continued academic achievement. Dropout rates, especially among girls, are high. The system that determines where a student goes to school is so arcane that some students wind up taking buses two hours each way. The desks are falling apart. The schools are often open-air structures short on luxuries like air conditioning, dry erase boards and other amenities we take for granted stateside. While on a previous trip to Jamaica, Vogel was asked to provide a toilet for the women’s faculty restroom, so off she went to a local hardware store to find one.

It can be a bit dispiriting. But part of what brings Vogel back each time is the kids she meets and the lives she touches.

“It’s a lot,” she said. “But when you’re there, you’ve got these kids just dying to play with this stuff, and they’re so adorable, and the faculty is so dedicated. And being there, going down there, that’s what I can do to show my appreciation for their dedication to these kids.”

Before her visit, Vogel reached out to various colleges and universities asking if there was any interest in her speaking to a class. When UWI replied, they wanted not just a class visit but a research presentation to faculty as well - and the ever-accommodating professor agreed.

“They’re researching black holes and stuff, so I didn’t really know that my work would be that interesting,” she said. “But I talked about Middle College and some of the research I did there and how we matched students and mentors for research purposes, and they were fascinated because they’re always trying to recruit more math majors.”

This meeting and further conversations between Austin Peay and UWI led to a proposed memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the schools to collaborate on postgrad opportunities, summer exchange programs, joint conferences and workshops and the delivery of seminars at both campuses.

Vogel will keep going down to Jamaica, will keep making a difference and will keep working to supplement the efforts of the teachers she has grown close to over the years. She’s proud of the relationships she’s built and will continue to foster them, aiding students at home and abroad as they expand their educations and broaden their horizons.