By Blair Schneider – Contributing Writer
Professor Malini Pillai loves to talk about politics. She loves to cook. But if you sat in any of her math classes in Wolfe 207 you would think math was the most important aspect of her life.
“She has a depth of knowledge about many things,” said daughter Padmini Pillai. “She is passionate about life and has a passion for learning, and is extremely passionate about teaching math,” she said. “She has never worked a day in her life because she loves [teaching].”
Pillai began teaching at Lasell in September 1987, and nearly three decades later, has proven that she loves what she does. “I really love teaching, and I love teaching math, I really do,” she said. “It gives me so much pleasure, and I love to be with kids.”
“She loves her students, and truly, truly cares about their success,” said Assistant Professor of Math, Deidre Donovan.
From the instant a student sets foot in one of Pillai’s classes, she makes it clear their success and understanding of the material is of the utmost importance. She has her students fill out “Student Math Profile” sheets, which allow her to get to know her students and their backgrounds in math.
The sheets include basic questions such as name, major, math classes taken in high school and grade received, and math classes taken in college and grade received. The sheets also include a section where students are asked seven questions where they rate their percep- tions of math on a scale of 1-10.
The back of the sheet is filled with more in-depth, personal questions, such as homework and classroom habits, math test preparation habits, the purpose/reason for taking the math course, goals for the course, something about yourself – hopes, fears, attitude, learning style, profession you’d like to pursue after graduation, and a question about graduate school. Through this questionnaire, Pillai is able to under- stand each student individually, which allows her to find the best way to teach the class as a whole.
“She is so caring to her students and wants them all to do well,” said junior Danielle Varnum. “You can be comfortable with Professor Malini, and ask for help and clarification when you need it.”
During class, if students look even slightly confused, Pillai will ask if they have a question or need further clarification. She teaches slowly and thoroughly, making sure to write every important detail on the board.
“She makes sure everyone gets it before moving on,” said senior Shelby Szcze-
siul, who has taken four courses with Pillai. “She’s a good teacher, and very likable, you can’t hate Malini.”
During class she said, “You might ask, why am I taking so much time – because it helps.” She always asks the class if she needs to do another example, and reinforces concepts learned in previous math courses.
Pallai is not all seriousness in the classroom, though. She has quite a sense of humor, said her daughter, and sometimes doesn’t take herself seriously. During class, Pallai leans her elbows on the desk and cracks a joke or two, often times at the expense of the students absent from class. “God help those who are absent today,” she says with a giggle.
According to Pallai, one of her philosophies in life is, “What you give, you get back tenfold.”
Pallai has never failed a student. “She is always proud of her students. She comes in and shows me tests when her students do well,” said Associate Professor of Math Joanna Kosakowski. “She works really hard and is interested in getting every student to understand.”
“What makes Malini unique is how she uses different colored chalk while doing a problem. She carefully picks a color that will represent a different and important part of the problem she is explaining on the board. I think this sets her apart from other teachers,” said Neil Hatem, chair of the department.
For Pillai, an integral part of teaching is explaining in a way that the students are free to ask questions. “You need a lot of patience to be a teacher,” she said. “If you can’t make the students understand what you’re teaching you have no business being a teacher…I love it when the students say, ‘Oh my god, I got it!’”