“When will I ever use this in the real world?”
It’s a question math teachers hear every day.

The truth is, for high school students on a path to engineering or medicine, that answer may be obvious. For many other students, the connection between their math classes and their college and career plans isn’t clear.

So math becomes a barrier for many students transitioning from high school to college, especially those who are first-generation, low-income or from diverse backgrounds. That’s largely because K-12 and higher education often operate as independent systems, with disconnected curricula and math requirements.

The Charles A. Dana Center at The University of Texas at Austin is introducing a multi-year strategy—known as the Launch Years initiative—to address this by focusing on the transition from students’ junior year of high school through their junior year of college, the most critical timeframe for student success.

“The Launch Years initiative puts forward a fundamentally new approach to mathematics,” says Uri Treisman, executive director of the center, which has supported K-12 and postsecondary math education across Texas and the U.S. since 1991. “It maintains the rigor needed for postsecondary degrees and high-demand jobs, while also creating new pathways for significantly more students—including those traditionally underserved—to thrive in college and realize their dreams.”

Through a strategy that combines research with collaboration and consensus-building, Launch Years looks to create relevant math pathways from high school to college that better align with students’ career interests and programs of study. Research shows that when students can take math courses that are relevant to their interests, their engagement, motivation and persistence increases—setting them up for a smoother transition into college and future success.


The Dana Center works to improve student engagement, motivation, persistence and achievement through innovations in math and science education. Their research supports educators, administrators, policymakers and other partners in K-12 and higher education.

The center’s executive director, Uri Treisman, is a national leader in mathematics education and has been honored with service awards from the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, the American Mathematical Association of Two-Year Colleges and, most recently, the Mathematical Association of America.

Over several years, the Dana Center will work in three states to analyze mathematics policies, programs and practices and bring together those regions’ stakeholders in K-12 and higher education, equity and the workforce. The goal is to identify curricular pathways that better reflect the types of mathematics students need to successfully transition into college math, align with their degree requirements, and prepare them for the workforce.

This innovative work is backed by a $6.68 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Our work in higher education confirms what we hear often about the field. When students engage with mathematics relevant to their program of study and their interests, math becomes more accessible and students are more motivated and more likely to succeed,” says Bob Hughes, director of K-12 programs at the Gates Foundation.

“The Launch Years project provides an important opportunity to extend these promising concepts into high school, ensuring that the courses students take reflect the types of quantitative skills they need in their lives, preparing them to succeed not only in their first college math courses, but also across a variety of majors and career goals.”

A foundation for
changing the world

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supports world-changing research and education across the Forty Acres

Other Dana Center initiatives focused on improving secondary education across Texas
Breakthroughs in developing easier, faster and cheaper diagnostics to fight mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and Zika virus
The students, faculty, research and outreach programs in the Department of Computer Science, based from the Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex
Psychology research like Associate Professor Cristine Legare’s work on cognitive evolution and Associate Professor David Yeager’s study of adolescent development
A partnership with the College of Education’s Center for Community College Student Engagement to define pathways to success for students in two-year colleges

Make an Impact

Changing the world

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