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Faculty Research Fellow


Tom Sherman
Associate Professor
College of Arts and Sciences
567 Lake Hall


Tom Sherman’s project will investigate and establish ways in which math department faculty can regularly work with math majors while on coop to facilitate a more mathematical understanding of coop jobs and a more experience-based understanding of mathematics. All too often math majors at Northeastern have failed to recognize and learn from math on their coop jobs. This points to a paradox: On one hand, mathematics is a tremendously powerful, general purpose subject. It is the foundation for most of modern science and technology and has new-found uses in many fields where it was not the traditional base. On the other hand, students have great difficulty seeing its uses. Thus, there is a disconnect between mathematics-as we-teach-it, and mathematics-as-a-working-tool. At Northeastern it seems that we ought to be able to use coop and other work experiences to bridge this gap.

This study will address a number of questions, including both practical and pedagogical issues.


  • What is the best structure for bridging this gap (e.g., a formal course, informal telephone or e-mail communication between students and faculty)?
  • What kind of evaluative process should be put in place to determine if this connection is working?
  • What are everyone’s (e.g., student, faculty, employer) expectations of everyone else?
  • Student issues: Do they get academic credit? Are they more employable? Does this cut into their time after work or on the job? Who gets credit for their ideas?
  • Faculty issues: What are the responsibilities and time obligations? What are the teaching issues here? What are the non-disclosure restrictions? How am I compensated for my time?
  • Employer issues: What are the security, non-disclosure, and proprietary issues? Will this take student time away from work? Will it contribute to faculty expertise and training?
  • What faculty and student preparation needs to take place (including, curriculum changes)?


  • What can faculty do to help students learn from the coop experience?
  • Why is it so hard to move from the abstract to the concrete?
  • How can we help bridge the gap between differences in the school and work environments? (especially differences in problem solving, attention to task, expectations of initiative and originality, and teamwork)
  • What effect does social context have on student learning?
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