The path to success for Brian Beck-Smith BS’05 started in high school. The Fort Worth native showed promise in his math classes, and one of his teachers took notice.
“I was inspired by my calculus teacher to go to UTD because I was very involved with computer programming,” Beck-Smith said. “She felt that UTD was a good fit for me.”
His calculus teacher was right. Once enrolled, Beck-Smith excelled at UT Dallas, and the computer programming coursework was right up his alley. His ability to retain the methods taught in math classes was especially evident to his fellow Comets.
“Some peers came to me for help, and they told me I would make a great tutor because I was able to help them understand the courses they were taking,” Beck-Smith said.
Beck-Smith took their encouragement to heart. During his sophomore year, he started teaching pre-calculus, calculus and linear algebra to other UT Dallas students through the Academic Bridge Program.
The program is geared toward first-generation college students and provides mentoring, tutoring and advising in order to help them earn their degree. It also transformed the vision Beck-Smith had of his future and enabled him to pivot from a career in computer programming to a career in teaching.
“I was part of a program that allowed me to pursue what I wanted to do,” Beck-Smith said.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree in 2005, Beck-Smith became a full-time tutor for the Academic Bridge Program. Three years later, he started his official teaching career teaching geometry at Lincoln High School in the Dallas Independent School District. Although his tutoring background prepared him to instruct students, he realized as a first-year teacher that there was more at stake at the high school level.
“It was somewhat similar to tutoring, but there were higher expectations,” Beck-Smith said. “I learned about the mindset and cognitive development of the students I was teaching.”
Although Beck-Smith is now a veteran math teacher at DeSoto High School, his involvement with UT Dallas didn’t end when he left his tutoring position with the Academic Bridge Program. Now, he’s the lead teacher for the Future Comets program, which helps middle school students prepare for college through math enrichment classes, leadership workshops and STEM activities.
“I get to prepare them for calculus,” Beck-Smith said. “They’re learning the skills they need to excel in their math courses in high school. I get to help mold and shape them so that they’re confident in math.”
In the spring, Beck-Smith spends his Saturdays with a horde of teenagers in one of two classrooms in the Naveen Jindal School of Management. The Saturday sessions are a precursor to the Math Prep & College Readiness Camp, a week-long day camp that provides Future Comets with hands-on instruction in geometry, algebra 1 and algebra 2.
“They’re getting a head start on the upcoming school year,” Beck-Smith said of the camp participants. “They get exposed to STEM and SAT strategies, and they get to see what life is like on a college campus.”
Beck-Smith will attest to the personal benefits of helping students realize their potential, but the Future Comets program isn’t just a positive experience for the teachers and coordinators. It’s also a fun way for students to learn and socialize with other kids their age.
“They love coming to get the instruction,” Beck-Smith said. “They have fun and they love that the teaching isn’t going over their heads.”
Parents see the benefits of the program, too, and are firsthand witnesses to Beck-Smith’s passion and knack for teaching.
“His love for math and his love for helping students grow is really evident,” said Cornelia McCowan BA’98, a former project supervisor for UT Dallas and parent of a Future Comet participant. “He’s a firm believer in the power of math.”
It’s also important to Beck-Smith to show his students that the opportunities he has earned are available to them, too.
“By them having a visual representation of who I am, they can see that it’s no different for them,” Beck-Smith said. “They can work as hard as I did to get to where they want to be. They can become a good statistic.”
But at the literal end of the day, when the Saturday sessions are over and the last camp of the summer is finished, the chance to give back to the University is what motivates Beck-Smith to spend his free time with Future Comets.
“When you go through an institution like UT Dallas and become a product of it, you see what programs are going on and figure out how you can help and give back to those programs,” Beck-Smith said. “That’s what I like about it — being able to give back to something that helped me get to where I am today.”