Mary Perry Smith, Teacher 1961-1977

Mary Perry Smith, Mathematics Teacher from 1961-1977

Mary Perry Smith, Mathematics Teacher from 1961-1977 and Co-founder of MESA


Mary P. Smith taught math at Oakland Tech for 17 years. She believes that one of the reasons she was a successful teacher was that she was able to connect with the students. To make that connection, Smith says, you need to think about the question: “Why do we have to take this class?” and show the students why. She gave them real life examples of math. Smith believes that math is a language, you must learn to speak it, and students must be allowed to talk to each other and discuss math, not just learn it passively from the chalkboard and books. Students have said of Smith that she was always willing “to go the extra mile.”

While teaching at Tech, Smith co-founded the Mathematic Engineering Science Achievement Program (MESA) to encourage and support students of color to go into the fields of math and science. Smith recognized that tremendous potential was lost because capable students were not preparing for those fields. Affirmative Action in 1968 prompted companies to hire more people of color, but it soon became apparent that students of color were underrepresented in university math and science programs. Working with professors at UC Berkeley, Smith piloted and ran MESA at Tech to bridge that gap. The program became enormously successful and is now a national program open to all students regardless of race, ethnicity or background. Smith’s efforts to interest and encourage students in the math and sciences impacted countless students over the years. She left Tech in 1977 when she was hired to train in the MESA program full time.