DIRECTV Math Achievement Award Winner Olu Akinrimisi — a City Year Tutor and Mentor — Believes That Hard Work and Relationships Have Been His Keys to Success

  • Jul 10, 2015

Olu's Photo1

One thing all of our 2015 DIRECTV Math Achievement Award winners have in common—aside from the fact that they’re all really good at math—is a passion for public service. That’s why they became AmeriCorps Members, devoting a year of their lives to service as tutors and mentors to struggling students in high-poverty communities.

Each year, we profile these outstanding young adults because they are role models for us all, recognizing their responsibility to help others and share the important skills and lessons they’ve learned in life.

This week, we’d like you to meet 2015 DIRECTV Math Achievement Award winner Olu Akinrimisi (right).

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to become a Corps Member.

Well, I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and raised Long Beach, California. My parents moved to states as an act of selflessness. They sacrificed their passions to make sure their children had opportunity to achieve greatness. Moreover, I attended the University of California, San Diego, and from my experience there I was truly able to see the effect service can have on a community. After graduation, I wanted to make a large impact on under-served communities, and serving as a Corps Member was my opportunity.

Where did you serve, and what were some of the highlights and notable challenges you faced as a tutor and mentor at this school?

I served at Lee Mathson Institute of Technology in San Jose, California. The school had about 400 students, from grades 6 to 8. Lee Mathson is predominantly Latino/Latina, with very few Blacks and Asians. Serving for the Lee Mathson community was challenging. The students were faced with many obstacles such as drugs, sex, violence, discrimination, finance, and I can go on. All of these factors were a hindrance to their learning process and it was hard for me to not blame this unjust world for making my student fall behind.

What math concept or unit was the most challenging for your students to grasp, and how did you overcome this?

The most challenging topic was adding and subtracting positive and negative numbers. This is a topic a lot of the middle school students were suppose know before coming into middle school, however a lot of the students I tutored had no clue. I always took it back to the basics of simply adding and subtracting positive integers. Then I would relate it to money, because they loved money. I even made games where they had to use monopoly cash to invest and borrow. Relating math to reality really helped the students have a better grasp of the material.

Do you have a favorite classroom anecdote from your time with City Year?

One of my students had always been labeled as the troubled child, so teachers never really gave the student any academic attention. During our first math session the student refused to work and said, “I’m stupid, I can’t do this.” For the next five sessions or so we did nothing related to math and just worked on our relationship and getting to know each other. Once we got back into math the student trusted me and their skills improved.

Have math concepts always come easily to you, or did you struggle with the subject? Was there a teacher or mentor in your past that influenced your ability to inspire math achievement?

Math has always been a subject that I was fond of. During grade school I always achieved in math. However once I started high school, I noticed my natural talent for math wasn’t there anymore. That was when I really had to rely on hard work and effort. My 10th grade math teacher made sure to always challenge me even as I struggled. From that point I learned that struggling was good and it only meant that I was learning. From then on math only got harder, but stuck with the idea of hard work and was able to do well in it.

What advice do you have for teachers, mentors and other Corps Members that work with struggling students?

I believe it is critical to establish a connection with students, get to know them and let them get to know you. Then, work your way into tackling their struggle with math. Also, try to make the learning interactive and real-life based, because the students are more likely to retain the new information being learned.

DIRECTV is committed to supporting (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning at K-12 schools, with a strong focus on math as the foundation for organized thinking and problem-solving. What are your thoughts on the importance of STEM subjects, and especially math, for today’s students and their futures?

I believe learning STEM subject is very important, not only to all students but especially for boy and girls of color. In STEM, people of color are a minority, due to many reasons such as social status, lack of educational resources, social environment, and etc. Furthermore, with our world moving toward high-tech it is important to get people into those fields, which means getting more students into college, which also means doing well in subjects such as math. Math is important because it is a critical building block into the world STEM.

 And what about your future? What are your plans?

I will be starting my first year of medical school at the University of California, San Diego. Also, I am in the PRIME-HEq program, which is an inclusive group that will be trained to identify the health disparities within communities in California. Finally, as a physician I want to specialize in pediatrics and work in under-served communities.

Outstanding. Thanks, Olu!

NOTE: For more information on City Year, visit the organization’s official web site.

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 —Stephen Vincent D’Emidio