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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

SE math teacher changes low grades into excellence

By Joshua Knopp/special assignments editor

Part five in a five-part series on winners of the Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Teaching, an annual recognition of professors who impress and inspire their students.

Cathy Costello teaches math to students in a way that is fun and easy, her students say. She strives to help students understand difficult topics, such as statistics and other math classes.
David Reid/The Collegian

When Cathy Costello looked back on her teaching career, she smiled.

“I never wanted to be a teacher,” she said. “I just wanted to have fun.”

The SE math assistant professor realized she was always teaching in some capacity. As a child in Girl Scouts, one of the projects she enjoyed was teaching crafts. During summer camping trips, she was the horseback riding director at a camp in Missouri. When she was a teenager, she taught swimming and life-saving.

With her constant teaching, it’s little wonder Costello has earned the Chancellor’s Award for Exemplary Teaching for SE Campus. That isn’t to say, though, that she wasn’t taken by surprise.

“The first reaction was, ‘They got the wrong person,’” she said. “I’ve only been here six years!”

Costello’s early background doesn’t read like that of an award-winning teacher. She went to Central State University in Oklahoma straight out of high school but dropped out after a year to move to DFW so her husband Tim could get into the film industry. When she dropped out, she had a 1.4 GPA because she didn’t attend her classes.

“I expected it!” she said. “A ‘D’ in beginning tennis is pretty good for never going!”

Costello and her husband had three children, each two years apart. When her youngest began kindergarten, Costello returned to school after 17 years as a stay-at-home mother, attending Mountain View College in Dallas.

“I loved it,” she said of mothering. “Wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’d shrink them back there if I could. I just wanted to go back. I kept having that burning desire to finish what I started.”

A biology major, she switched to math at the encouragement of a professor, Sam Rodgers.

“I was sitting there in the front row trying to figure out how scary it was going to be,” she said. “And then he came in with that smile, and you just knew it wasn’t going to be scary. Everything he would teach, he would just make it as plain as day.”

Her second semester in Rodgers’ class, Costello said she had so much fun she switched over to a math major though her biology class didn’t make the decision difficult.

“I’m sick of looking at that dead cat,” she said of the model her biology class was using. “That white cat is probably still at Mountain View. I made it through the whole semester without touching it.”

As much as Costello admires Rodgers, he places Costello in even higher esteem. In 35 years of teaching around 20,000 students, Rodgers said he places Costello within the top two or three.

“She’s an extremely bright person,” he said, “and very dependable. Always in class, always there on time, always did her work. Just an outstanding student. I wish I had a roomful of students like her all semester.”

Costello graduated from Mountain View in 1996 and went on to the University of Texas at Arlington, where she graduated in 2001 with honors and a GPA of 3.9.

When asked about the turnaround, Costello pointed at a picture of her children.

“I had little ones watching,” she said. “I had no other choice than to do well. When you’ve got kids, the pressure is on, man.”

She said her calling to teach became clear while she was finishing her degree.

“It was when I was in grad school and the opportunity came up that if I was doing full-time grad school, I could teach a college algebra class,” she said. “To be able to help someone, it’s very rewarding. It became very natural and comfortable to me.”

After getting her master’s in 2004, she spent her first year teaching in a temporary position at Mountain View.

“It was such a neat thing to go back in a different way,” she said. “It’s different [at TCC] because they didn’t have any full-time gigs over there [at Mountain View]. I’m thrilled to be here. Our math department? I’m so lucky. Everyone’s so positive.”

Rodgers was sad to see her go.

“I personally was in hopes that we would have a full time position open and that she would remain at Mountain View,” he said. “In my opinion, the TCC system was quite fortunate to have Cathy Costello go to them. I’m not surprised at all that she has received the award.”

Statistics student Jennifer Stordo stressed how easy going Costello is as a teacher.

“She takes a not-so-lighthearted subject and makes it fun to learn,” Stordo said. “Math is hard, and you need a teacher who understands that.”

Classmate Jennifer Villegas agreed.

“She has a really strong knowledge base of what she’s teaching, which allows her to teach it in a casual way,” Villegas said. “I’d recommend her. I’d say she’s pro-student, and that’s a big thing with teachers. She wants you to succeed.”

Over the years, teaching has grown on Costello, to say the least.

“I love it,” she said. “I’m having fun.”

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