Being on the faculty of Maine Coast Semester allows me to combine my passions for mathematics, the outdoors, ecology, and teaching high school students in one of my favorite places on earth. My path to becoming a math teacher was not direct. After earning master’s degrees in Forestry and Environmental Management from Duke University’s School of the Environment in 2000, my first career was in forestland conservation. I worked for a statewide land trust based in Bangor, where I learned how to navigate the logging roads and cultures of Maine’s northern forest. But I missed young people and felt a pull towards teaching. In 2010, I went back to school and earned another master’s degree in Math and Science Education at the University of Maine. But after teaching math and ecology in Maine public high schools for several years, I missed the adventure and stimulation of being outdoors. At Maine Coast Semester, I can do both.
On the day that I interviewed for the math teacher position at Chewonki, I got to eat lunch with students and join them on a work program at the farm as well as teach a class. The first thing that impressed me was the way students greeted me with friendly smiles even when just passing me on the boardwalk. I had become accustomed to the cell phone culture of the school where I was teaching, where students rarely looked up from their devices when passing through the hallways. The eye contact at Maine Coast Semester was almost joltingly refreshing. In chatting with and working alongside students that day, I could feel the strength of their community and that this was a place where intellectual curiosity was thriving. Although I enjoyed my previous job, it was not a difficult choice to accept the invitation to join the Maine Coast Semester faculty.
One of the best parts of my job is exploring the world around Chewonki through a mathematical lens with my students. As a college English major, I try to convince my students that math can be as descriptive and poetic as language – loved for its utility but also for its elegance and beauty. I like to bring a sense of discovery and play into my classes, and am continually inspired by my students. I also have continued to value eating meals with students and working alongside them as I did on the day of my interview. It’s easier to connect in the math classroom when we’ve gotten to know each other in those contexts.
The other joyful work that I get to do is parenting my teenage daughter, Ana, who is the most thoughtful person I know and who can breeze up Mt. Katahdin without breaking a sweat. We live in the small town of Bowdoinham on the Cathance River, which is our swimming pool in the summer and skating rink in the winter. I keep bees here, both because they keep me supplied with honey for my morning tea, and because I find them fascinating – the mathematicians of the insect world. Knitting is another passion; I almost always have a partially completed sock, hat, or sweater on needles either in my hands or poking out of my work bag.
I grew up near Wiscasset and attended Maine Coast Semester in its inaugural year (Semester 2). I returned 55 semesters later, after traveling the world, working, and studying. My student experience at Maine Coast Semester as well as my continued connections to this place drew me back, and it feels like a natural fit.
B.A. in English, Bryn Mawr College
M.F. (Forestry) and M.E.M (Environmental Management), Duke University
M.S. in Teaching, University of Maine
Burroughs, Elizabeth (1999). Regeneration Ecology of Bald Cypress on the Roanoke River Floodplain, North Carolina. Master’s Thesis, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University.
Burroughs, Elizabeth (2012). The Astrobiology Project: Effects on Students’ Science Aspirations and Achievement, and an Analysis of Self-Handicapping Behavior. Master’s Thesis, University of Maine.