Ukiah native, Leslie Banta, who began her first year at Mendocino College (MC) as a full-time mathematics faculty member in Fall 2011, dreamed of returning there to teach when she graduated from MC in 2003, but, she says, "I didn't think I could ever make it happen." As a wife and mother, she had family responsibilities and financial challenges, but she "decided to start working towards it anyway."
And work, she did! As a student, Banta was twice recognized for her achievements with $1000 MC Foundation Academic Excellence Awards. She went on to receive many other scholarships and honors, both at MC and at Sonoma State University (SSU), where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics, and graduated magna cum laude in 2006.
"The Foundation awards, while I was still at MC, made a huge difference" she said. "My husband could see that we did not have to face the financial challenges completely on our own, and I felt the support of people believing in me, which kept me going in my darker moments." She recalls that she was particularly inspired by professors Deborah White and Jody Gehrman while at MC. "They encouraged me, believed in me, and reinforced that I was making the right decision to continue my education," she says.
With a leap of faith, and the support of her family, she enrolled in the Master of Science program in education at Dominican College, and graduated in 2009 with both an M.S. Degree and a credential to teach mathematics at the junior high and high school levels.
Prior to her employment at MC, Banta worked as a mathematics teacher at Redwood Academy of Ukiah, and at Ukiah High School. She also mentored new teachers as an Intern Support Provider through the North Coast Beginning Teacher Program. While at SSU, she worked as an instructional assistant in the mathematics department. Earlier jobs included busing tables at the House of Garner, and helping her Dad with office work, as well as assisting in a dry cleaning business, and working as a bookkeeper. While a student at MC, she worked as a tutor in both the Learning Center and the MESA Program.
Banta says the best part of her job is "helping students realize that they can do math." She also enjoys "leading students to see the beauty of mathematics," which, she says, "is often overlooked in the classroom."
She says the most challenging part of her job is covering all the material in the time available. "I like to teach through exploration," she says, "and that takes longer than lecturing."
Her favorite classes to teach are pre-calculus and calculus, she says, "because the students start to put together all the math they have learned, and they start to see connections outside the classroom." She also enjoys working with students who have had difficulty in previous math courses. "Being able to help them succeed is so rewarding," she says.
Banta thinks many people would be surprised to know that she is a Zumba dance enthusiast in her free time. She also enjoys cooking, wine tasting, and watching baseball: especially the Giants and the A's.
Banta's two children both attended MC: her son, Philip, went on to Boise State University in Idaho, and her daughter, Erica, recently transferred to Fresno State University.
Banta says she looks forward to being able to give back to the MC community that has meant so much to her and her family.