Ben Etgen

A mathematician looks at problems from successive levels of abstraction until the essential nature of a problem can be studied. From there, the best solution can be found and then applied to the situation at hand. This process of abstraction and generalization characterizes mathematics and is modelled in mathematics education. From elections and climate change to optimizing profits and increasing the flow of highways mathematics offers the best solutions.

Throughout my career as a professor the essential curriculum of arithmetic, algebra and geometry and more specific courses for teachers, engineers and scientists I have listened to my students. I have brought their concerns to our faculty senate, offered study sessions, and learned from them how to teach each concept more conceptually and tangibly. In concert with colleagues across the college, I’ve created new individual and classroom materials to actively mathematics with the social sciences, English and art. I invest the effort needed to be both innovative and gradually perfecting the art and practice of teaching. I have excellent student evaluations, both internally and on instructor evaluation sites. I have progressively raised my standards of rigor, depth and abstraction in class and the difficulty and breadth of my exams as my ability to teach the hardest topics increases. For the past five years I have used free open-source resources in all of my courses. Specifically, I use and code the online homework for three courses in MyOpenMath. I am active in our college-wide efforts to reduce our environmental impact, primarily through supporting more sustainable transportation and advocating for the student-led effort to made transit passes available in summer.

Letters to the Editor


The Right Road

Sacramento should copy Seattle and add lots more buses

Not long ago, a region choked with traffic was uncertain about its future. Many compared it unfavorably with Portland. It was headed down the same road as Los Angeles.

Then voters were offered the choice of radically increasing the scope of its bus system. Today, a dense network of buses serve the city, rapid buses serve the suburbs and express buses service the entire region.

That city is Seattle.

Today, Seattle’s buses carry more people than ever to work, school, shops and restaurants. The same ballot measure that funded more and better bus service, also funded safe access for pedestrians and bicyclists. It helped to calm runaway traffic.

Proof that better bus service helps everyone to achieve their dreams comes from Seattle, where 90% of bus riders have a car available. A transit rider can save $150,000 in a decade. By choosing how we get around, we are also choosing when to save and when to spend. Taking the bus to work means we get to keep more of what we earn. And we can reduce our environmental impact.

If given the choice, many Sacramentans would make the same choice. I would.

That’s why I started asking why so few people in Sacramento have this choice. The answer won’t surprise anyone who has seen Sacramento change. Bus service was cut by 25% during the Great Recession, even as ridership was increasing. Even a decade later, that level of service has not been restored.

The Sacramento Transportation Authority board—16 elected officials from across the region—is debating a sales tax increase for the November ballot and a spending plan to go with it. It meets Thursday, Feb. 13. A half-cent increase could raise more than $8 billion over 40 years for roads and transit, including buses.

If you are reading this during the commute, there are 155 buses on the road in the Sacramento region. There are 561 buses on the road in Portland, 387 in San Antonio, 418 in Salt Lake City and 550 buses in southern San Diego. Honolulu has about half as many people as Sacramento, but has 455 buses. Starting with far less bus service than many regions, we now have much less.

Like me, you may even remember when Sacramento had a bus network similar to what Seattle has today. Express buses ran downtown from the suburbs, including Whitney Avenue, Marconi Avenue, and El Camino. Local buses served hubs at malls and colleges with connections to regional buses. For example, American River College was served by 11 local bus routes that fanned out across Carmichael, Fair Oaks and Citrus Heights then connected with an express bus to downtown.

We need regionwide access as quick, economic and effective as Seattle. Portland has 16 bus routes that run every 15 minutes or better most of the day, every day. Sacramento has only two such routes. As our region grows, more buses would allow us to accommodate new development. The key is more buses!

Because malls, hospitals, colleges, business parks and universities are not on light rail lines, Sacramento relies on buses more than other regions. Buses have always been an essential part of our transit network. As bus service has been cut, we have also seen a reduction in ridership on light rail.

Today, our region is choked with traffic and uncertain about its future. Many compare it unfavorably with other regions. Where do we go now?

Sacramento Bee

Autonomous minibuses? Nope

“It’s time for public transportation to harness private sector innovation” (, June 5): The idea of autonomous minibuses showing up when they choose only to be stuck in the same traffic jams as everyone else is not appealing to me. Getting to work, school or doctors appointments requires having a fixed schedule. It is much cheaper to buy bigger, more efficient buses than a fleet of minibuses. Instead, connecting from a scheduled local bus to a fast train or express bus is better than what any smart minibus stuck in traffic can ever manage. The economics of this does not add up. There is no way that a flotilla of smaller minibuses could avoid the up-front costs of a fleet of much more efficient larger buses. When the elite propose solutions as inefficient and pricey as “smaller, smarter, autonomous minibuses,” you can be sure that, like any luxury good, it will be reserved for those with the means to afford inefficiency.

Transit funding

Re “Sacramento eyes new transportation tax, but are residents willing to pay?” (, Sept. 7): While other cities have made major investments in transit, Sacramento’s Regional Transit cut whole lines and reduced service. Portland and Salt Lake City provide the best example of what regions like ours could do with extra funding. Buses are frequent and run into the evening. Instead of focusing all their resources downtown, suburban Portland and Salt Lake restaurants, shops and recreation venues thrive on a constant flow of visitors relying on frequent buses. We need more funding for better bus service. It is up to us to champion a ballot measure that does this.

Why is Regional Transit so expensive for residents?

“Sacramento students will get free transit rides for one year. Here’s how to get your pass” (, June 13): What is it with Regional Transit and fares? State workers pay $10 a month. College students pay $6. School kids will be riding for free. Residents and taxpayers pay $110! Only New York City’s month passes are more expensive. This decision is not good for riders or Regional Transit. School traffic is part of the double-peak when workers and kids travel at the same time. SacRT Forward’s new bus network, in which capacity is being redirected from peak hours to evenings and weekends, will roll out just as kids will swamp the buses and there will be fewer morning trips. RT has never been good at matching its fares to its network. Until recently transfers were not provided in a network that forced you to transfer to light rail. Why can’t we follow Salt Lake City’s lead and allow group travel on weekends and evenings with discounted group passes?

Here’s to the math teachers

Remedial math courses don’t help students. They get in the way of our aspirations” (, Aug. 20): People who have taken essential mathematics have succeeded. Taking elementary algebra at American River College in 1992 opened the door to my career. My algebra classes at ARC were a revelation. We calculated the orbits of the planets, the amount of energy in a traffic collision, the height of a ball using its hang time, the location of the point on the opposite side of the world (near the Republic of Mauritius), and so much more. Without the power of algebra, I would never have graduated from college Summa Cum Laude. Without Los Rios providing bridges for those in my socio-economic position, I would never have been selected as Student of Year at my university. Social justice demands abundant access to essential mathematics courses. To all of you teaching algebra and geometry as the leaves turn this autumn, I salute you!

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