Electrical Engineer in California Uses Maple to Further His Study of Mathematics and Assist Fellow Students

Challenge

Al Rusnak, a retired electrical engineer, wanted to refresh his math skills and become proficient with new concepts and modern technology tools.

Solution

Rusnak began using Maple to enhance his understanding of mathematics, due to its capabilities and ease of use. He also uses it to tutor students and help them work through mathematical concepts.

Result

Maple proved to be a valuable tool for Rusnak and his fellow students. It helped them better visualize problems and focus more on the mathematics behind them. He also used Maple to generate computer-based problems for a Calculus III textbook at Evergreen Valley College.

When it comes to learning, using the proper tools not only makes learning more effective, but it can also make the subject matter more enjoyable. Students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects are often dealing with complex problems, and anything that can make the learning process easier is of great value. Learning solutions like Maple provide students with an easy-to-use interface and engaging features that allow them to explore math in unique and exciting ways. Al Rusnak, a mature student at Evergreen Valley College (EVC) in San Jose, California, quickly recognized Maple’s potential and began using it to increase his understanding of mathematical concepts and enhance the educational experience for himself and his fellow students.

A retired electrical engineer and program manager in the semiconductor industry, Rusnak developed a strong passion for STEM subjects during his high school years, which led him into his career in engineering. He attended the University of Akron to obtain a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering prior to beginning his career in the field. After retirement, he decided to go back to school to refresh his math skills, and discovered there were new teaching methods, including technology tools, that were not used during the time of his college education. There were also key differences in the textbook content, Rusnak said. “For example, the earlier Calculus courses covered fundamental concepts, but the latest textbooks cover topics that were previously only introduced in engineering classes, such as the more advanced concepts related to Vector Calculus,” he said.

Rusnak was introduced to Maple by a Calculus instructor at EVC, who uses it to solve problems during classroom time, and soon realized its potential. “My goal is to learn as much as possible, to be able to use math tools comfortably,” he said. “Using Maple has allowed me the ability to focus on techniques vs. having to spend time on the basic math manipulation. The use of Maple as a tool is definitely beneficial. Its interface, ease of use and capabilities are far greater than other math tools that I’ve used.”

Rusnak sees Maple as a valuable tool in achieving his objectives. “Maple’s key benefits are its ability to visualize problems and the minimal time needed to solve them. That’s something we didn’t have during my college education days,” he said. “Computers today allow for complex problem solving with a turnaround time of just seconds. Using Maple allows students to complete assignments with a high degree of success.”

The feature in Maple that Rusnak finds most useful is symbolic notation, which makes it much easier to enter information in a format that students are used to seeing. It is also a simpler process to review calculations in Maple, since the formulas are readable and the documentation for each step is easily entered, he said. “The ability to have the calculations propagate throughout the worksheet is invaluable. Making a change anywhere allows the remaining calculations to be updated with very little effort,” he said. “Maple’s graphing capabilities are also fantastic. Part of the challenge in mathematics is visualizing the problem. Spending time with the graphs in Maple really helps the user understand how to approach problems.”

In his recent Calculus III course, Rusnak took leadership in completing homework assignments early and helping his fellow students with their problems. “Working with Maple enables users to solve problems in a minimal amount of time, while allowing multiple attempts at a solution,” Rusnak said. He completed his homework assignments in Maple before they were discussed in class, and even sent his Maple files to his instructor, who incorporated them into his lectures. “If someone had any issues with a problem, the details and plots were in the file,” he said. “This allowed time for more problems to be discussed during the class time.”

When the course was completed, the instructor approached Rusnak to ask if he wanted to use Maple to generate computer-based problems for a chapter on double and triple integrals in a Calculus III textbook. Using Maple, Rusnak was able to generate textbook-quality 2-D and 3-D plots. He also created a detailed solution for all problems using the Maple output saved in a PDF format that students could easily use as a resource.

In addition to his studies, Rusnak currently serves as a part-time math tutor at Evergreen Valley Community College. He hopes to see Maple become more widely used at EVC and has submitted a proposal to the college to provide free Maple training seminars to students. Each seminar would focus on a specific concept and would ensure students are able to begin working on concepts on their own computer using Maple. Over the five-week seminar period, students would be expected to gain proficiency in Maple. “I believe if students had time to gain experience with Maple, they would see its value and view the tool as an investment in their future, not just from an educational standpoint or their careers,” he said.

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