After a distinguished career developing mathematics content for numerous companies, Judy Vandegrift decided about twenty years ago to become a freelance consultant. But when the opportunity arose to work with her long-time friend and colleague Ed Manfre as part of a team developing one-of-kind math educational materials, she was all in.
“I haven’t taken a full-time job with a company in a long time. Cetati is creating something that hasn’t been created before and it’s very exciting and fun to get in on the ground floor level of developing everything. It is a program to help kids learn math language so they will be familiar with the terms that teachers use. There are 16 episodes and each one has a Part A and a Part B. Part A exposes the students to math language in the form of an animated story. Then in Part B they go on an interactive adventure where the language that they just learned is used and they have to complete a task before they can go on to the next episode.”
Hailing from Southern California, Vandegrift earned a BA in mathematics and a MA in education from UCLA as well as a MBA from Boston University. She always assumed that she would go into the then burgeoning computer industry as IBM was just getting started at the time. However, after college she joined the Peace Corps and discovered her passion for teaching mathematics in Medellin, Columbia.
While she has always had a natural inclination for math, Vandegrift realizes that for many students, that is not the case and sometimes their fear and insecurity is exacerbated by how it is taught.
Our innovative products are the result of an innovative approach. We combine the decades of life/work experience mathematics content developers have with that of Hollywood-level animators to help students learn math language and ultimately become better critical thinkers and problem solvers.
The most rewarding part of the process for Vandegrift is seeing all the elements come together as a cohesive unit.
“I think the talent in this company is amazing–the story writers, the animators, the illustrators–they bring so much life to what we are doing. I grow more and more excited watching it progress through the stages. We first see the animated sketches, then the full animation in color and then final product.”
The enthusiasm about Cetati’s offerings is not limited to the artisans who craft them. At the annual National Council of Supervisors of Math, the most important meeting about math education in the United States that took place April 1-3 in San Diego this year, Cetati’s products were a definite hit.
When she is not creating ways to make math more accessible to students, Vandegrift likes to indulge her creative side by dabbling in calligraphy and painting. She and her husband of 17 years Glen, love to laugh and their Portuguese water dog Jazz is always more than willing to provide some comic relief. When it comes to music, she enjoys everything from Bach to the Beatles and beyond.
As for books, Vandegrift enjoys fiction, a well-written memoir and she is a sucker for stories about people climbing treacherous mountains like K2 and Mount Everest.
“I would never want to actually do that, but I absolutely love reading about it!”
The philosophy of reaching students where they are at is not a new one for Vandegrift, but what is new is the approach by Cetati—combining purposeful math with captivating animation and storytelling.
“When I worked as a math specialist I would go into, say, a third grade classroom and engage the students in ways they could understand, relate to and that were fun and after a while one of the kids would say ‘Aren’t we going to do any math?’ When they are having fun, the learning comes naturally.”