Alumni Q&A: Megan Holmstrom Takes Math Education Worldwide

November 15, 2023
Megan Holmstrom
At right, Megan Holmstrom plays a fluency game with students in Uganda.

One glance at the well-worn passport of San Diego State University alumna Megan Holmstrom (’99, liberal studies) is proof that a career in mathematics education can take you quite far indeed. 

The former San Diego elementary school and middle school math teacher has visited 82 countries at last count — many of them in a working capacity. 

Holmstrom’s international odyssey started in 2012 while working as an instructional coach for an independent school in Los Angeles that happened to be opening a campus in South Korea. Valued for her expertise in elementary math — expertise bolstered via two SDSU Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education (CRMSE) certificates — Holmstrom was offered a chance to cross the Pacific to support the new school’s elementary math program.

It was the first of many global opportunities she seized.

Like several spending years as a math instructional coach at schools in Dubai and Madrid. 

Like her launching her own consulting company, Math Speak Global, which now sees her partner with independent and international schools in Vietnam, Hong Kong, Japan, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, India and Kazakhstan and elsewhere. 

These days home for Holmstrom is technically the Spanish island of Menorca, though she spends roughly 75% of the academic year racking up frequent flier miles. As grueling as her whirlwind life can be, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

"The fulfillment and the reward of just getting to work in this way is over the top for me,” she says. “No one could have crafted or scripted this particular pathway for me.”

To mark International Education Week, we sat down with Holmstrom to discuss her international work, her SDSU experience and her advice for current students experiencing wanderlust.

What does your work with international schools look like?

"I partner with schools that are usually in some space of change (in mathematics). So a school will reach out because they're doing a self-study, or perhaps curriculum review, or they’re looking for new resources. I often go in and look at their current resources, materials and curriculum overall, making sure it still fits their teaching and learning beliefs and vision and mission. And you can't do that without also looking deeply at teaching and learning."

What do you like most about working abroad?

"These kids are from all over the world. It's all religions and ethnicities. It's blended, international families. That's the aspect of it that makes me think, 'Wow I get to do this work.' I think the diversity that is just natural in the international school world is one of my favorite parts. You get a little bit of the local and a little bit of the international blended together. And the kids speak three of four languages, even in math class — I love it, it's fantastic.”

How did your experience at SDSU shape the professional you are today?

"I loved my liberal studies experience, especially the chance to get into those upper division College of Education courses as well as psychology courses. I had a great blend that I think is the whole goal of a liberal studies program — getting to see many different aspects. 

“And my experience at CRMSE was very much a shift for me in making sense of mathematics — looking at the thinking, the learning and why the math conceptually works. I had never approached it in that way. We did a lot with a body of work called Cognitively Guided Instruction, and I just kept thinking 'There's more to this.' So I started to really shift from teaching elementary holistically to really wanting to focus on mathematics.”

What’s advice to current SDSU students?

“When I came to San Diego State, I went right into the liberal studies program and I was set — I wanted to be an elementary teacher. But in hindsight, I wish that I had discovered the international option earlier. I see a lot of teachers that come from the States or North America, do the international circuit as teachers, educators, leaders and then come back to wherever home is. So you can have both. I would have loved to know that as a 22-year-old graduate.

“I also wish I had done a study abroad, even if it had been just to pause and slow down. So my advice is to take a semester somewhere. I don't know what (the experience) needs to be for every student. But you'll know when you get there.”

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