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Sine, Cosine, Three Cheers for 3.14159

Erin McDermott student teacher
Erin McDermott ’24 isn’t afraid to solve problems—in math class or on the field.
By: Danna Lorch

The co-captain of Endicott Cheerleading, Erin McDermott ’24, has been flying through the air since she was just a preschooler cheering in curls and bows in her hometown of Abington, Mass. The sport is her life.

“I love the feeling of being thrown ten or 20 feet into the air. I’ve always thrived off the pressure of performing in front of a crowd,” she said.

These days, the math major can be found either on the football field or at the head of the class doing just that.

McDermott is a student teacher for seventh-grade math at Beverly Middle School. And she’s soaring there, as well.

“I love this age group, making the classroom a positive place to connect, and the math curriculum, too. Algebra is my thing,” she said, from her dorm room, while her emotional support cat, Pi, swaggered across the Zoom screen. “It’s all about negative numbers, integers, and ratios. I’m even planning a lesson to teach next month on solving for x.”

She’s having so much fun teaching math that it sometimes doesn’t feel like work at all. McDermott’s senior thesis is aptly titled, “Fun with Pi.”

Pi was first calculated more than 4,000 years ago, long before calculus was formally established in the late 17th century. McDermott’s mathematical challenge is to research the global history of pi and “use calculus to make a proof of the number pi,” she explained.

At Endicott, McDermott has noticed many surprising parallels between cheerleading and math:

“There is a formula for nailing each stunt. I use physics and math all the time. For example, when I’m coaching cheerleading as Team Manager at Revere High, I will tell the kids who are pyramid bases that we need enough power in our arms to throw the flyer at a 45-degree angle.” The squad members sometimes just look at her and laugh, but then inevitably stick their next routine.

For the past two summers, McDermott has been part of the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) Summer Camp Staff, a competitive role that is only offered to athletes who are hand-selected after a rigorous tryout process. NCA has shown her the country and expanded her worldview—one cheer camp at a time.

“It’s made me a better athlete because I’m working around the Team USA coaches,” she said. “They taught me how to coach, and each summer I teach classes to hundreds of kids.”

That experience carries over to her classroom too, another place where McDermott doesn’t get any jitters commanding attention.

“Perfection before progression” is one of the camp mottos—pushing the participants to practice one skill before moving on to a more advanced challenge. Falling down—from a pyramid or an algorithm—is part of the process.

“You have to learn in cheerleading, in math, and in life that mistakes are actually what we need because that’s where we actually learn the most,” she said.

McDermott has learned a lot from her own miscalculations and life challenges too. When she first came to Endicott—a college she selected for its small classes, cheer program, and strong visual arts department—she was set on becoming a portrait photographer.

But a first-year internship in a commercial photography studio made her realize that the industry wasn’t the right fit for her personality at all. To get the most out of college, she had to reroute her academic goals fast.

While going through a list of academic majors something just clicked. She remembered how in high school she looked forward to math class every day and how her favorite teachers always taught math.

“That internship was a good bad thing that happened because it put me on the right track. It made me think about what I really love,” she reflected. McDermott switched her major to math halfway through the internship, hustling to meet the requirements for a four-year program in her three remaining years at Endicott.

It’s been a jam-packed few years, but she’s made it work and will graduate on time with no regrets. “The math professors here at Endicott are really tough, but they also want you to succeed. I had Professor [Darryl] Key for Calculus II and even though it was hard, he still made me laugh every day.”

Now, on Sundays, she works as a peer tutor for that same class at Endicott’s tutoring center, a community learning space that provides useful academic support. Sometimes her tutees stress about how challenging the coursework is, but McDermott has the answer:

“I tell them that Professor Key is pushing you to work hard on your own and isn’t there to hold your hand, but he also wants you to come ask for help when you need it. He really motivated me to love calculus.”

When it comes to McDermott’s own future equation, all the variables are lining up.

She’s set on becoming a middle school math teacher and coaching her future school’s cheer team. “My whole life revolves around teaching and cheerleading and now I’ve found a way to never have to leave either world behind,” she said.