Faculty Profile: Abraham Ayebo, Ph.D.

Authored By: wells438 04/24/2024

Headshot of Abraham Ayebo

This fact may surprise students of math professor Dr. Abraham Ayebo: When he was a boy growing up in Ghana, math was his least favorite subject.

“I remember my fifth grade teacher once told me, ‘Abraham, you are a very bright kid, but you need to work on your math skills,’ and I thought to myself, ‘forget this math stuff, there is no way I am going to get it.’”

He was certain that he would never be good at math.

That all changed in high school when a new teacher who had just graduated from college was posted to teach mathematics. “The energy he brought to the classroom, his clear explanation of math concepts and his sense of humor had a great impact on me. Suddenly, I found myself liking mathematics more than all the other subjects. In fact, I liked it so much that I would do math homework as a hobby when I got bored with other subjects.”

But not only did Abraham realize he liked math, he soon learned he excelled at teaching it. “Throughout high school and college, my classmates always told me that they understood math concepts better whenever I explained them. I realized I had the gift of teaching. Inspired by my high school teacher, I determined that I would one day become a math teacher too, to help put smiles on the faces of my students, just like my high school teacher did for me.”

He graduated with a B.S. in mathematics from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana and taught mathematics at a high school in Ghana. He realized that in order to be an effective teacher of mathematics, he needed to pursue an advanced degree in the subject. He came to the United States to earn graduate degrees in mathematics at the University of Nevada Reno, receiving his master’s degree in 2002 and his Ph.D. in 2010.

Today, his students and the entire UMR community can thank that high school teacher for inspiring a young Abraham Ayebo and setting him on his path to becoming an associate professor in the Center for Learning Innovation.

Dr. Ayebo brings much to the University, especially his passion for engaging students in his favorite subject, and challenging and inspiring their growth. For him, every student brings unique qualities just waiting to be shared once they are given the support they need; every student, he believes, is capable of performing well in class. “I want my students to leave my classroom with collaboration skills, a sense of curiosity, open-mindedness and a thirst for knowledge.”

He joined the UMR faculty in fall 2018, attracted by the multidisciplinary department and its opportunities for collaborative research. “The research focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning also sounded appealing to me. Since my doctoral degree was in mathematics education, the scholarship of teaching and learning is a natural fit.” Dr. Ayebo’s research focuses on how affective factors — such as attitudes and beliefs — influence the way students learn mathematics and statistics. In the last four decades, there has been increased interest in the role of affective causes in the learning of mathematics and statistics. “It is generally assumed that positive beliefs, attitudes and feelings in mathematics and statistics will lead to improved achievement, and vice versa. I am currently interested in investigating the affective factors that impact the teaching and learning of mathematics and statistics.”

“Students might think they are not good at math, when in fact it is their attitude towards the subject that is causing them not to perform well. It is therefore very important for mathematics instructors to not quickly write students off, but to carefully understand the students’ backgrounds and differentiate the curriculum to cater to the needs of the students.”

It’s perhaps not surprising that what Dr. Ayebo enjoys seeing most at work is students understanding mathematics concepts for the first time. “The smiles on their faces always bring me so much joy and satisfaction.”

Beyond the university, Rochester has been a strong community for Dr. Ayebo and his family. His wife, Salomey, works as a nurse at Mayo Clinic. They have three children: Oswald, a sophomore at UMR, and Benita and Victor who currently attend Rochester-area public schools. He values time with his family, and teaches Sunday school classes at his local church, Rochester Assembly of God. He’s also an avid soccer fan, rooting for the Chelsea Football Club in the English Premier League. And, motivated by a continued desire to learn and a curiosity about the world, he’s a voracious reader of biographies, psychology, theology and stories behind the historical development of mathematics and the sciences.

In the classroom, his students’ focus and motivation to learn delights him. “Having students who are selfmotivated makes the work of the instructor very easy,” he says.

The field of mathematics continues to evolve and excite him. “The most commonly used technology when I was in high school and college was the calculator. Now, there are so many technologies that have changed the way we teach and learn mathematics. The integration of technology into the teaching and learning of mathematics is very exciting. Being able to use the new technologies to perform complex mathematical tasks is changing the landscape of mathematics learning. The emergence of AI such as ChatGPT will make it even more interesting.” 

Read more stories from the Fall 2023 Alumni Magazine: The Kettle