Arun Sharma

Mastering the Mathematics of Change

FPF calculus instructor Arun Sharma wants students to embrace change and think about math in creative ways.

At first glance, FPF instructor Arun Sharma seems to have one of the most difficult jobs. He teaches calculus to students who need to fulfill a requirement and who may have no particular interest in the subject.

But after talking with Arun, it's clear that he has a great job. He’s not merely teaching calculus, a set of formulas that need to be memorized. But he's teaching a fascinating way of thinking that can open up other ways of comprehending material. This may be in math, science, English Lit, and the list goes on.

When You Least Expect It

As Arun explains, "Calculus often comes up in ways that you don't expect." For example, knowing the chances of something happening is a basic and underrated skill. On a larger scale, calculus is the gateway to many careers, including engineering, physics, medicine, economics and statistics.

Arun, the son of two math teachers, has always had a strong affinity for math, and sees his teaching as a means to evangelize the relevance of calculus. And this happens outside of the classroom, such as participating in math events. “You learn creativity, and that makes advanced studies easier,” Arun explains. “Those skills carry over. Those who just did the coursework have more difficulty in research because they didn't develop those creative skills."

Put Away the Calculators

By teaching this required first year class, Arun sees firsthand the variety of experience that his students bring to their first year at Berkeley. It's his particular challenge to take that uneven group and bring them to a common understanding by the end of the semester. Job one is to put away the calculators and learn that math is not just rote memorization.

There's a way of thinking, elegance, and clarity in the way that math—and, in particular, calculus—represents the fundamentals of our physical world. “Calculus opens your mind into a way of thinking about things in broader ways that can be helpful, especially if you're willing to embrace it,” Arun says. “You realize how much deeper everything is compared to how the way you learned it if you just memorized formulas."

Small Changes in a Small Setting

Arun appreciates the small college atmosphere of the Fall Program for First Semester. Having faced the challenges of teaching large classes at other institutions, FPF has a "just right" feel for him.

"Students often ask, 'What do I need to do to improve?' When you're working with 400 students, that's hard to say, but I can better gauge individual performances within a smaller group. With that smaller group, you can build more personal relationships with the students."

Headshot of instructor Arun Sharma