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A Love of Math + SHSU = A Legacy Of Triumphs

May 16, 2012
SHSU Media Contact: Sara Thompson

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What started out as an opportunity to learn English after moving to America from Russia has led to three degrees in statistics for Svetlana Steich and her daughter Tatiana Kovyrshina, who received her bachelor's degree on May 11. —Photos by Brian Blalock


Thirteen years ago, when SHSU recent graduate Tatiana Kovyrshina and her mother, SHSU alumna Svetlana Steich, traded their dry Russian winters to move to Southeast Texas, they found summers were not the only thing warm in the Piney Woods.

The duo found compassion and caring on the campus of Sam Houston State University.

Now a spring graduate, Tatiana plans to follow in her mother’s footsteps by trading her obstacles for accomplishments and pursuing her own “American dream.”

It’s a legacy of triumph she says her mother started almost 10 years ago.

After a move from Russia, Steich realized that the college credits she had previously received in her home country were not valid in America. Because of this, she began working at a local grocery store, where she said she “occasionally weighed the option of returning to school but was afraid of starting over” until one day when she grew disheartened with the language barrier she felt living in America.

“I could not watch TV or read American magazines because I was not familiar with the English language, so I decided to use my spare time to take classes,” Steich said.

After work, Steich then began attending evening courses at Blinn Community College, which was near her then-home in Bellville. Her intention for taking the classes was not to earn a new degree but to better her English oral and written skills.

At first, Steich said she rarely understood most lectures and discussions, which made her extremely shy in the classroom setting. Her language barrier also kept her from asking professors for special accommodations. A dictionary accompanied her everywhere she went and she used it almost non-stop in class, for everything from reading assignments and test questions.

Her limited English skills caused her to rarely speak with her peers, which caused the 33-year-old a serious lack in confidence.

Yet, to her professors, Steich’s grades spoke for themselves.

Each semester, she earned some of the highest grades in her classes. Her academic talents made the quiet Russian student stand out to the faculty of Blinn’s English department, who began encouraging her to take classes at a university level.

Following their advice, she furthered her commute by an hour and enrolled in several history classes at Sam Houston State University.

It was not until her first math class that Steich found her “long-awaited niche.”

“With math, I had finally found something without a language barrier,” Steich said. “That is why I fell in love with it the very first day.”

Lana and Tatiana, in Moscow in front of a statue of famous Russian poet and author Alexander Pushkin. —Submitted photo

After discovering her passion for math, she quit her job, and her family moved to Huntsville, where she became a full-time student studying mathematics and statistics.

“When I first met Lana she was incredibly quiet but clearly intelligent and hard-working,” said Melinda Holt, associate professor of statistics. “I remember approaching her to be sure that she planned to take more statistics courses and was delighted when she did.”

As Steich continued to make outstanding grades, her English also improved and she began making friends with SHSU students and faculty. After she discovered her second niche, statistics, her newfound comrades convinced her to join the SHSU Statistics Club, where she held a variety of leadership positions.

“It was amazing to watch her open up and become a leader among her peers,” Holt said. “Not only was she incredibly talented, but she was a motivation to other students.”

In fall 2007, she was chosen by the faculty of mathematics as the recipient of the Brewton Scholarship, which is awarded on basis of academic achievement and potential.

Within three years at SHSU, the once-quiet foreign student who spoke virtually no English earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and graduated with academic honors and an undergraduate grade point average of 3.84.

With further encouragement from the SHSU faculty, Steich continued her education and, two years later, earned a Master of Science degree in statistics at the age of 40.

Upon earning her teaching certificate, Steich landed the job of her dreams—teaching her gift of math to others. She is now an assistant professor at Paris Junior College in Paris where she teaches several math classes in fluent, dictionary-free English.

For her daughter Tatiana, it was the SHSU faculty’s caring nature towards her mother that made her decide to enroll in the university’s mathematics program in the fall 2009 semester.

“I had already met most of the math department while my mother was a student,” Tatiana said. “I already knew they were wonderful people just from the support they gave my mother and how much they helped her adjustment into America.

“The support they gave her, she passed down to me, and I am still thankful for that,” she said.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Tatiana earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics this May.

Her freshman year, Tatiana began participating in SHSU’s Long-Term Undergraduate Research Experience. Hosted by the National Science Foundation, she and two teammates spent two years, including two consecutive summer breaks, researching under the guidance of associate professor of mathematics Rebecca Garcia.

The team presented their work over “Franklin Magic Circles” during a miniconference in August at SHSU’s Criminal Justice Center.

During her senior year, Tatiana continued to be an active participant in Sam Houston State University’s mathematics department, alongside the faculty and peers her mother befriended just one year before.

Tatiana pushed herself to the same high collegiate standards as her mother and maintained a grade point average of 3.8 and was awarded the prestigious Glenda J. St. Andrie Scholarship in 2010.

Her academic achievements at SHSU have earned her a spot within University of Texas’ biostatistics program. There, she will continue her education to obtain her Master of Science degree in biostatistics.

Both mother and daughter agree they owe all of their accomplishments to the university’s mathematics department, which they claim is both “phenomenal and caring.”

“Without the compassion the faculty showed me, and now my daughter, none of our dreams could have come true,” Steich said. “Because of them, our time at SHSU has been a wonderful experience.”




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