THE ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT: Math May Not Be a Piece of Cake, But It Can Be As Easy as Pi with the Right Tutor

July 2, 2010
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UC Santa Barbara student and tutor Ian Sigsworth can help expand your universe this summer.

UC Santa Barbara student and tutor Ian Sigsworth can help expand your universe this summer.

Leave it to a mechanical engineering student to figure out how to earn summer cash to help pay for his education at UC Santa Barbara and later this fall at prestigious Imperial College in London, England. Ian Sigsworth, a 2008 Bonita graduate, is working as an independent tutor, helping local students make sense of theorems, equations and problems in math, chemistry and any other subject with which they might be struggling.

“Rather than spending three hours looking and staring at the book trying to figure out a problem on your own, you basically have another teacher you can turn to who may explain the subject matter from a different perspective,” said Ian, a math whiz, in particular. “Especially with a subject like calculus, it’s not about doing the arithmetic; it’s about actually understanding the concepts.”

Ian is actually part of a growing national trend. With roots dating back to classical times when Plato tutored Aristotle and Aristotle tutored Alexander the Great, one-on-one instruction is now in vogue again, especially with the increasing inability of the modern school system, facing more and more cutbacks, to satisfactorily educate large numbers of children, including the best and the brightest students who need more, not less, time and attention to scale new academic heights.

At UC Santa Barbara, Ian has directly received the benefits of graduate students helping him learn and master more advanced math and engineering concepts. Seeking help is a sign of maturity, not weakness, according to Ian. “I certainly need the help of tutors,” he said. “You need to swallow your pride and get help when you need it; otherwise, you’re not going to succeed.”

To attract tutoring business, the up-and-coming mechanical engineer has had to become a budding entrepreneur as well, reaching out to his local La Verne network for leads — the parents of his former middle school pupils and his math and science teachers at Bonita High School. He’s not averse to flipping burgers and slinging hash, mind you, but when you have a select kind of knowledge that can really help students, you play to those strengths and talents first and foremost.

“It just made sense to tutor, plus now I can also tutor at the high school level because my knowledge base has expanded,” Ian said.

Indeed, Ian is one of about 70 remaining mechanical engineering students in his UCSB sophomore class, a distinguished subset that has been whittled down from 110 students who declared “ME” as their major their freshman year. In late September, he’ll leave for Imperial College, ranked among the world’s top engineering schools.

High school students would do well to have Ian as a tutor and mentor this summer because of the special insights he’s gained at the college level, including how to better focus and manage time amid a flurry of distractions. He spent his freshman year at UCSB’s Nicolas Hall and last year in off-campus apartment. His other home, of course, was the library, toting his books and laptop.

“Independent study becomes much more important in college,” Ian said. “In high school math, for example, they’ll give you 50 problems and they are all the exact same problem, where you pretty much have to apply the same formula and just plug in different numbers. In college, you may have just 10 problems a week, but each requires a different problem-solving approach.”

Part of that independent study is knowing when to seek help.

Ian’s two years at UC Santa Barbara has given him the confidence and confidence to venture overseas, despite pursuing a discipline where the curriculum is often so strict and specific that it often precludes students from leaving their home campus out of fear they’ll miss a required class.

Ian, however, sees this challenge as an opportunity. “The ranks of engineering aren’t filled with a lot of people with international experience,” Ian noted. “The experience of studying abroad is something that really sets you apart from your peers.”

The opportunity to trave the continent was also a lure to set up shop in London. “It’s so close to Europe (actually England is part of Europe even though it acts as if it isn’t half the time – they still use pounds in England, not Euros). We’ll have a five-week spring break and a three-week winter break, which gives lots of opportunities to travel.”

For now, however, Ian is in La Verne seeking students who want to learn and grow and advance.
Ian has a lot of answers, but he doesn’t have them all. Asked if he knew how to plug the oil leak in the Gulf – it’s at least in part a  mechanical engineering problem – he said he honestly didn’t know, but at the same time you could the gears in his mind spinning, looking for a solution.

“It’s kind of frustrating to hear people say, ‘Oh, why haven’t they stopped it? It should be so easy,” Ian said. “They don’t quite understand that the pressure and everything involved is extremely complex. The one square inch where the oil is coming out is the equivalent of applying 12,000 pounds of pressure on your hand.  That’s something they should have prepared for.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned in engineering so far, it is you always need to ask ‘what if’ because if you don’t, things like this can happen,” Ian added. “Even something as simple as changing a bolt on a catwalk in a hotel can cause a catwalk to collapse, which happened about 20 years ago in Kansas City. That failure was the result of someone not doing the freshman level physics necessary.”

No doubt someday soon Ian will make a great mechanical engineer. In the meantime, he’s in La Verne this summer ready to help your student achieve more.

Ian charges $20 an hour or offers a package of six tutoring sessions for $100. Contact Ian at (909) 909 720 5004 or via email at

Do you know about the exploits and adventures of other amazing La Verne students? If so email us at editor@laverneonline.  

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