A SIG summer can be just as transformative for staff as it has been for students. One staff member who shares this experience is Chad Thompson. Currently a senior math major at Rider University, Chad began working at SIG’s Princeton campus as a Counselor/Teaching Assistant in 2018 to see if he truly wanted to dedicate his life to education. He returned to SIG’s Princeton and Emory campuses in 2019 again in the same role. After the summer he shared “6 weeks of SIG finally opened my eyes to what I want to do,” which is to teach. Chad will begin a teaching certification program to become a math educator after graduating from Rider University this spring. Chad was kind enough to share with us how his SIG experiences shaped his journey to pursue a career in education.
Chad wasn’t sure he wanted to be an educator when he began his studies at Rider. “I knew teaching was always going to be a backup. I was a secondary education and math major because I thought you needed a major before you started school. (Teaching) wasn’t my initial plan.” At Princeton, the instructors Chad worked with began incorporating him into their classes as soon as they discovered he had considered becoming an educator. Under the instructor’s supervision, Chad taught lessons on modularity in a number theory course. The following summer “took being a TA to another level. I was able to encourage the students to do their best work even though I know they already were. I was able to challenge them so that they could better strengthen the argument or the answer they had given. That’s all you can ask for as a teacher, to have them do their best work and to help them grow and build their answers so that they are as strong as possible. Watching that all happen, I just wanted everyone to get what they wanted out of each class. Being able to do it with them, by their side, offering feedback good and bad, and being able to put a little challenge in almost everything they did to strengthen their arguments was amazing. After the 6 weeks was over it was clear to me now that that is where I belonged, inside the classroom.”
Outside of the classroom, Chad has described his SIG experience as one that helped him grow as an individual. “When the kids go there, they are surrounded by people who are just like them, a lot of people tend to be shy and close themselves in when they are gifted.” Personally relating to the students, Chad thrived in the SIG environment as a mentor. “I was able to be myself without worrying whether people were going to like the amount of intensity and enthusiasm that I brought to the camp.” Having a growth mindset was an important lesson Chad learned at SIG and hopes to pass on to the students he mentored.
“With these young brilliant minds, to keep growing academically, socially, and altogether, I want them to be able to reach that goal that they have for themselves. I know they can do it, I have all the faith in the world in them. The one thing I know you need to do to be that great mathematician or great scientist is you need to be able to allow yourself to grow. You can’t deny yourself that growth because it will hold you back. It may not seem like it, but it will.”-Chad Thompson, SIG Staff
Read the full interview with Chad Thompson below, including his favorite memory at SIG, and advice he has for his students:
Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, where do you go to school, and what do you study?
I’m from New Jersey, I go to Rider University. I am a senior and a math major. Outside of school I love to cook. Some extracurricular activities I do at school; I am part of the Special Olympics as a volunteer for bowling, and mentor for incoming freshmen who have undeclared majors at the school. The program is based off students choosing a major within the next year or two and I am someone more at their level than a dean or advisor. It’s someone who has already gone through it, and they get more real time answers from the experiences I had already.
How did you choose your college major?
Believe it or not, back when I was in 6th grade, I had done bad in math. It was an accelerated math class and my teacher was going fast with the material and I couldn’t keep up. She saw I was putting in the effort, but the grades I got weren’t showing the same amount of effort I put in when I was doing the work. At the end of the year, she ended up pushing me into the advanced math class for the next year. She told me she saw the effort, she knows the effort is what I needed for the next class, and said I’ll give you this one chance to prove yourself. From then on, I’ve always been on top of math and that’s when I knew this is what I want to do. I became good at it and I know a lot of people struggled in math and being able to now go back and help them understand it a lot better, is exactly what made me choose the major going into college.
Would you say that you’ve decided to become a math major and you’re passionate about helping other people because of that teacher that helped you back then?
Yeah. She gave me an opportunity that not a lot of people would have had. I took it was able to go on from that experience. Just as I want to be able to give other people the opportunity to have somebody that they can go to when they don’t understand something, and from there help try to push them to get further and further into it if that’s what they want to do.
How did you do afterwards in your math class in the following year?
The next year my performance was a thousand times better, straight As throughout math and I’ve been in every advanced math class since. Essentially, I did a 180. I earned low Ds then once I got into 7th grade and on everything has been As and Bs. I haven’t done bad in math since then.
When did you begin to work for SIG and what positions have you held since then?
I was a counselor at Princeton in 2018 and 2019. I was also a counselor at Emory in 2019.
What initially motivated you to apply to work for SIG?
In the beginning, it was just me trying to find a summer job. I was scrolling through Indeed and came across SIG and I was interested in it, so I applied. I looked through the website and everything to see what SIG really was, when I found out it was an academic camp, I thought okay, that helps me out a little bit because I was considering being a teacher at the time. So being a teacher and working with kids, I wanted to see if this is where I really wanted to be at. Although I wasn’t teaching a class directly, I was around the kids in an academic setting so could see how they are in the classrooms and go from there.
You were already thinking of being a teacher before SIG?
Yes, I came into school as an education major, but I had to drop it because I came in the spring and couldn’t make the deadlines that were in the fall. The school said I could always come back to education and earn my teaching certificate. I was like I’d rather go that way because I’m not 100% sure teaching is the way I want to go. I just stayed a math major. I’m going to graduate with a math degree and come back for a teacher’s certification.
Note: Chad will graduate and return to Rider for a certification program and student teaching.
Can you describe some of your experiences as a counselor?
SIG helped me grow more as an individual. When the kids go there, they are surrounded by people who are just like them, maybe they don’t have the greatest social aspect in their lives, a lot of people tend to be shy and close themselves in when they are gifted. That’s where I was at, I wasn’t the most social person in the world, but I wasn’t the smartest person in the world. I focused on school because that’s what really mattered. Then coming to SIG, it helped me become more social. I was able to be myself without worrying whether people were going to like me or not, whether the kids were going to like me, if the staff was going to like me and the amount of intensity and enthusiasm that I brought to the camp. Later I realized everyone loved it. When I got such a positive reaction from everybody, it encouraged me to keep being this way.
For a lot of us we were new, we didn’t know what to expect and yes it was going to put a lot of stress on our bodies but to know we were all in this together and that we had each other’s backs was probably one of the best feelings I ever had. Me and Justin were first time Counselors working together with a bunch of kids, we didn’t have the same energy going into it, and it wore me out I don’t know about him. Knowing that whenever I was worn down, he could pick up that slack and whenever he was worn down, I could pick up for him. Knowing you had that safety net you could fall back on made things a lot better for me going on.
Can you talk about some of the highlights or things that were most memorable across the three sessions you worked at?
One of my favorite moments happened while I was at Emory. The kids knew my birthday was coming up and we had a cake decorating competition that day. Since I was working that day, I had to proctor them in the cake-making. They forced me to stay away from them the entire time they were making the cake. Did I know what was going on? Yeah it was obvious. But when the judges came down to look at the cakes and we presented our cake, everyone in my group and other groups started singing happy birthday. Having a summer birthday growing up, no one really celebrated it because you weren’t in school. To think 22 years later I’m sharing a birthday with a bunch of students and they were more excited about it than I was made me feel good inside.
The impact I had on the kids and the kids had on me in a short period of time is amazing. You only see each other for three weeks out of the year and to think that within those three weeks they were able to trust me with anything that was going on and they came to me with everything. And If I needed people to step up on something, I was able to go to the kids and say listen, I need you to step it up in this aspect and they did it. That made everything much more fun going throughout camp.
You’ve worked for SIG for several sessions now, what inspired you to return?
After the first year, I had so much fun, I loved working with the group of people I had, kids and staff alike, it was such an amazing time. To know that the kids had fun is one thing, but that the staff were able to have fun among that too, that says something. I initially only wanted to come back because I wanted to see the people who worked last year come back and try it again. This time we have experience under our belts, we know exactly what to go through this time, and everything would have been a lot smoother. Working at Emory made me realize the amount of fun you could have just within the camp and nothing else is amazing and it’s something I wanted to continue to be a part of. I wanted to be one of the reasons why these kids kept coming back year in and year out. Especially how Princeton and Emory went the past year.
Tell me more about your career goals. Have you always had the same career goal?
There were a few times when I was wanted to be just like my teacher. I had a teacher in 5th grade who was able to teach every subject even though she majored in history. When I had her for math, she made it fun, which is the reason why I went into the advanced class in 6th grade. I did so well because I loved it so much. I wanted to be just like her, she had a pinwheel if you did an assignment and had a 100% on the first try you could spin the wheel for prizes and that fueled me through that class. In 6th grade, she gave me an opportunity that not a lot of people were able to have. In 7th grade into college I did not know I was going to be a math teacher. It was always a backup plan for me, I didn’t have a go-to thing to go to school for, but I knew teaching was always going to be a backup. I was a secondary education and math major because I thought you needed a major before you started school. That wasn’t my initial plan.
You’ve said, “6 weeks of SIG finally opened my eyes to what I want to do.” Can you describe this experience?
As a counselor, you are also a teaching assistant. Last year two of my teachers, one more than the other, when I told them my goal and why I was at SIG, they incorporated me into the class a little bit. One teacher had me teach a lesson, but she was still there to help me get the material across to the kids. The second teacher did a split classroom. He taught one topic and I taught the other, but they were still intertwined with each other. It was a lot less nerve-racking for me and I knew what I was talking about, so I felt comfortable. Going into this past summer they took being a TA to another level. I was incorporated into the classroom more and interacted with the students more. I was able to encourage the students to do their best work even though I know they already were. I was able to challenge them so that they could better strengthen their argument or the answer they had given. And that’s all you can ask for as a teacher, to have them do their best work and help them grow and build their answers so that they are as strong as possible. Watching that all happen, I just wanted everyone to get what they wanted out of each and every class and being able to do it with them, by their side, offering feedback good and bad, and being able to put a little challenge in almost every single thing they tried to do to strengthen that argument they were trying to make was amazing. After the 6 weeks was over it was clear to me now that that is where I belonged, inside the classroom.
It sounds like you found your home.
I did and I’m so happy that I have because I don’t know what would have happened if I waited another year and then found it out. I would have already graduated and not know what to do from there.
Any other comments or things you would like to mention?
A piece of advice that I want to share is never stop achieving your goals. That’s what will fuel you to get to where you want to be. I know a lot of people say they want to be a doctor or a teacher or a scientist. Go for that. No one is stopping you from being that. You can do whatever it is you want. I want them to know they should go for it. Even though a lot of these kids will not know who I am, the ones that do know me know they have someone in their corner to help them get through and help them achieve that goal. I’m also going to throw in something Matt told me last year. I went to him for advice for the last year of college and post-graduation stuff. He told me to always look for another way to keep building myself and keep growing. I didn’t understand what he meant when he said that originally but going through SIG for another time and being able to see where I can grow and build and not just in SIG but in life together, I became more skeptical of the things I did was able to critique myself rather than having others critique me for me. So being able to grow is a very, very important thing. With these young brilliant minds, to keep growing academically, socially, and altogether, I want them to be able to reach that goal that they have for themselves. I know they can do it, I have all the faith in the world in them. The one thing I know you need to do to be that great mathematician or great scientist is you need to be able to allow yourself to grow. You can’t deny yourself that growth because it will hold you back. It may not seem like it, but it will.
I learned that if you don’t allow yourself to grow and you don’t allow yourself to be able to build off the foundation you have been given, it won’t allow you to unlock the potential you have inside of you. Everyone is unique and everyone is special in their own way. We have artists, mathematicians, scientists, writers, and public speakers. They know that they must allow themselves to learn from others and accept criticism to where they can take it and take the pieces that you would say would be their weaknesses and strengthen them so they essentially, they have no weaknesses.