Meet Steve Ushakov
“I didn’t set out to be a math major,” he said. “I set out to major in physics. But as time went on, I very quickly found the math aspect of physics to be almost contagious. I would actually look forward to heading over to the (UVM) library to work on math problems.”
A native of Burlington, VT and a graduate of Burlington High School, Steve earned his Bachelor’s degree in Math at UVM, then stayed on for a fifth year to earn his Masters. From there, he came to RU as a first-year teacher.
“What I try to stress in my teaching,” he said, “is that there isn’t just one way to look at solving a math problem. I want my students to develop what I call ‘flexible thinking’ – looking at problems from different angles and understanding there can be multiple solution strategies, each leading to the right answer. I love seeing that light come on when a student suddenly ‘gets it’ and begins thereafter to enjoy the actual process of figuring out the answers to difficult, and then even more difficult problems.”
“In my first week here, I told my classes, ‘I’m going to make math real for you. I’m going to make it personally relevant. We’re going to enjoy learning math together. And largely, I think that’s happening.”
But the story doesn’t end there. When Steve’s not in the classroom, he’s very often in the gym training or preparing for a powerlifting competition (sometimes with his sister, pictured above). Just this past March, he entered the VT Powerlifting Masters and Womens Meet, and managed not only to win in his weight class, but also to tie, and beat, his personal weightlifting records.
“There are three basic lifts,” he said. “Back squat, bench press, and deadlift, and each uses a different set of muscles and requires a different kind of preparation and intensity. Unlike team sports, where you’re competing against others, in powerlifting you’re participating with others (and yeah, I won my weight class), but really you’re competing against yourself. Each time I go out there, I have an opportunity to be a better version of myself.”
For next year, Steve is considering forming a club at RU for students who’d like to learn more about weight training with a particular focus on powerlifting. If you’re interested, he’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, he challenges all of us to solve the following math puzzle:
ABCD x 4 = DCBA. What are the values of A, B, C, and D? Hint: It’s a four digit number, which means the number “A” cannot be higher than…sorry...can’t tell you that. But as Steve would say: “when you think you’ve found an answer, can you approach this from any other way?”