John Urschel, The Big Book Of Tell Me Why, And The Making Of A Football Star Turned Math Evangelist

“It started with The Big Book of Tell Me Why,” he tells me over Zoom during the pandemic fall. John Urschel, a former guard for the Baltimore Ravens, is about to complete his Ph.D. in mathematics at MIT. He’s also a Trustee at the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), the only math museum in North America. Math and football, he says, are two things he likes and is really good at. Not a lot of people can say the same, and I wanted to understand more about this intriguing combination in a person now passionate not just about math and football but also about bringing more young people of color along on the journey to solve big questions with math. He has made that his life mission.

Research shows that a student’s success in early math skills is a predictor of success later in life and is associated with a greater likelihood to graduate from high school. Students who learn math early and well are set up for success not just in school but in the workforce. Math has become even more crucial in the past few decades, as more and more jobs require math- and STEM-related skills; those jobs also pay better and offer more opportunities for upward mobility.

John’s math story began when he was 7 or 8: “My mom was an attorney,” he explained. “When I was too little to be left home by myself, I would stay for after-school activities, and my mom would pick me up and she would take me to night court with her. She had a book – The Big Book of Tell Me Why — and I read it every night.” Here he goes to the bookshelf and gets it. The zoom square fills with its image: It’s dog-eared and has a shoe print on it, “from being in the trunk,” he explains. “‘Who invented sign language? How does an octopus move? What is an asteroid? Could there be a collision of the planets?’ I am in my own little world, immersed in the book.”

Read the full article here.

Recent News

ABC News quotes our Chief External Officer, Amber Hamilton, in their most recent article by Arthur Jones II around the challenges facing the STEM teacher shortage and what is being done about it.
U.S. ED Deputy Secretary Cindy Marten and our Executive Director and Founder Talia Milgrom-Elcott join What I Want to Know, with Kevin P. Chavous: 101 to discuss how can we train and retain America’s STEM educators.
In years past, you may have sent teachers flowers, a candle, or a card for teacher appreciation week. This year, the American Teacher Act is offering teachers what they really want: a livable salary.