July 19, 2019 | Science, Campus Life
Dr. Ion Bica, associate professor of mathematics, has known since childhood that math was his calling. Now, he spends his time helping students to see the beauty and possibilities in math, and encouraging them to pursue their passion.
Ion’s own passion for teaching and mentoring inspired his colleagues and students to nominate him for a 2019 Distinguished Teaching Award.
We talked to Ion about the steadfast nature of math, inspiring students and the importance of finding your path – even if it has nothing to do with math.
The Distinguished Teaching Awards recognize outstanding faculty members who have shown extraordinary commitment to teaching and have inspired their students and colleagues. Watch for the 2019 award winners' profiles throughout July: Jacqueline Baker, Dr. Rodney Schmaltz and Dr. Susan Mills.
Q. What inspired you to study mathematics?
I’ve known that math was my calling since Grade 11. Before that, I was always doing well in math, but I was distracted by wanting to do chemistry and then physics. In Grade 11 I had a huge moment of revelation. I simply understood that it was my path, and I’ve never second-guessed that.
What draws me to mathematics is that it is embedded in the fabric of life, even when we don’t fully understand how. Nobody has a complete, comprehensive understanding of all the ways it’s woven into our existence because there is still so much more to discover, but it’s there.
One aspect of mathematics that is fascinating to me is that it’s either right or wrong, and in between is a fascinating world where we seek truth – it’s a beautiful journey.
Q. When did you realize teaching was for you?
It’s so peculiar because I wanted to be a professor since I was in Grade 1. I didn’t know much about school but I knew that I should be a professor. Nothing ever deterred me, and I feel lucky for that.
It’s not that I didn’t work hard to become what I am, but the calling was there from a very early age. I innately liked to explain things to people. My first experience of teaching was in Grade 8. The principal of my school saw that I was very good at chemistry, so she let me teach a few things for my peers, under her supervision. It was amazing! And it felt natural. Even though these were my peers, when I was in front of them, I felt different. I felt like a teacher.
Q. Did you have any teachers who inspired you?
My physics teacher from Grades 9 to 12, Mr. Butuceanu. He was a mentor for me, and he always saw my potential. He had a talent for telling stories, and I was in awe of that.
He had so much integrity. His first rules were complete ethics and complete respect for his students, and that’s what I think I learned most from him. He treated us with so much respect, equally. Now when I teach, I view my students as absolutely equal – equal potential to learn what they’re there to learn, and equal capacity and value as people.
Q. What is your favourite part about teaching?
I know how beautiful and rewarding it is to find your passion in life, and I want to help my students find that same feeling – even if it isn't mathematics.
To me, everything matters. It doesn’t matter if it’s mathematics, biology, fine arts, theatre – everything has a reason to be, it’s all equally important and everyone has their own way to contribute to society. Of course, I’m here to teach math, but I hope my mentorships and my passion for math can inspire my students to think about what they are passionate about and help them to reach their potential.
Q. What’s your favourite course to teach?
I don’t have one favourite course. There are three types of courses I love to teach equally.
I love teaching development courses – these are usually 100- or 200-level courses that prepare students for more specialized studies. I love seeing these students develop their skills and encouraging them as they discover their potential. I also love to teach specialty courses because that’s when you have students who are already focused on a certain area, so they’re very engaged and ready to approach research.
And then there are remedial courses – MATH 99 specifically. It’s a course that helps students who don’t have the prerequisites move into our credit courses for a degree. The morale in that course can be very low. So I try to boost their hopes and their morale, and let them know that they are valued and can achieve what they want to. I’m there to guide them – to help them see the beauty of mathematics, and not be scared of it.