Katrina Roebuck is helping students perform better in math

Posted on Monday, September 8, 2014

Many wise philosophers agreed that helping others is the secret to happiness. Mother Teresa even said: “Give, but give until it hurts.”

Katrina Roebuck

Katrina Roebuck, a PhD student in Chemical Engineering has embraced this philosophy of life, and has made a big difference within the Faculty of Engineering since she started her university studies in 2006. Her commitment to help drive other students towards the path of success has earned her the nickname of the “Math Whisperer”.

 Katrina Roebuck talks about her involvement as a mentor

Q - How long have you been a mentor and what has led you towards this path?

The origins of the Math Whisperer are murky and mysterious, but are believed to have begun in our subject's childhood.  My father, a great man—mainly due to his walrus mustache and his propensity for speaking like Donald Duck—was a tinkerer and a "Mr. Fix-It".   He passed on his talent for explaining things in entertaining and unusual ways to his young protégé.

By high school, I had started tutoring fellow students.  I continued to tutor well into my undergraduate studies at the University of Ottawa (2006 - 2012), where I pursued a degree in Chemical Engineering.  During my studies, I was lucky enough to be under the tutelage of Dr. Steve Desjardins, an unassuming man with a twinkle in his eye and a patented Desjardins smile®.  Upon emerging from the 7th dimension, Prof. Desjardins would share his vast mathematical knowledge with the class, mesmerizing them with what could have been pretty boring stuff.  BUT IT WASN'T.  Inspired, with a degree in hand and the potential for graduate studies, I wondered if I could continue tutoring at the same pace as I had done during my undergrad years.  With the help of the Chair of Chemical Engineering, David Taylor, and the Vice-Dean of Undergraduate Studies, Marcel Turcotte, I transformed into the Math Whisperer.  This transformation involved running into an antiquated phone booth and coming out, looking exactly the same.  This allowed me to tutor a larger volume of students and pursue graduate studies in Chemical Engineering.  An added benefit was that there was no cost to the students themselves:  The Math Whisperer program is free.

Q - How rewarding is it to help other students?

I find it most rewarding when I can take a student who has little to no understanding of the subject matter at the beginning of a semester and make them an expert at the end.  This makes me feel like a proud mama.

Q - Can you tell us more about your research progress? What do you hope to achieve in the near future?

I am now a PhD student in Chemical Engineering, doing research on membrane fabrication.  I have learned that research is different than taking classes and writing exams; it comes with its own set of difficulties.  My supervisor, Dr. André Y. Tremblay, is an inspiring man with a heart of gold, an encyclopedic brain, and an admirable appreciation of internet cats.  Together, we plan to change the world.  Or at least make some nifty membranes.

Q - You received several awards during your studies. What does it take to win these prestigious awards?

I have won several awards during my time at the University of Ottawa, including three NSERC awards (2011, 2012, and 2014).  I have learned that high academic standing is important to accomplish this.  However, getting good marks is not the most important thing in life.  After struggling to stay grounded during my undergraduate studies, I have now found balance between life, school, and work.  This is more important than any scholarship could ever be.  

Q - What’s next for Katrina Roebuck?

In the future, I plan to finish my PhD and (perhaps) become a professor. In the meantime, I live in Vanier with my husband, Peter, and my two cats, Brick Tamland and Diesel.

Find out where engineering and computer science studies have taken other students

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