Firefighter Paul Lowery, Jr. seeks to serve where the need is greatest

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Paul Lowery, Jr. lives, breathes and thinks mathematics. That is, when he isn’t living, breathing and thinking of ways to serve humanity.

Combine community service with math and the result is, well, incalculable—at least to the hundreds of students, including some from North (Minneapolis) High School, Lowery has assisted with math in person and online. He has donated several thousand hours over the past decade tutoring struggling middle school, high school and college students. For months he aided a Tanzanian student battling both English and math, regularly driving him to quiet venues where Lowery patiently explained the intricacies of calculus.

The Tanzanian man later “came to my office with tears in his eyes,” recalls Cindy Kaus, a Metropolitan State University math instructor. “He said Mr. Lowery was not only an outstanding teacher but a remarkable person. In addition to tutoring daily during the [winter] break, Mr. Lowery surprised my student with money to buy his family a nice Christmas Day meal.” The student handily passed the course.

Reminded of the incident, Lowery, 52, an intense but private man, suddenly becomes quiet. “No one was supposed to know about that,” he finally said

Lowery’s unbridled passion for math and serving fellow citizens accounts for his selection as student speaker at Metropolitan State’s May 4 commencement ceremonies at the Minneapolis Convention Center. He was also chosen as outstanding student in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences.

“An outstanding student,” observed Michael Green, a Metropolitan State associate professor in mathematics, “should not only demonstrate mastery of coursework but elevate classmates’ performance. Paul is just such an outstanding student,” said Green.

Lowery, who lives in Maplewood, is atypical for another reason: After working as a Saint Paul Police Department community service officer, he toiled for the Saint Paul Fire Department for 28 years, last serving as an East Side captain on Ladder 24. At age 48, he could have counted his blessings instead of numerals and lived on his fire department pension. So why, instead, did he elect to attend classrooms where many students were less than half his age?

In part, Lowery explains, “I had this dream I was back in the classroom.” And then once he started taking courses, he was inspired by Metropolitan State math instructors.

“Professors at Metropolitan State are just incredible,” said Lowery. “They will give you time, whether or not they have the time to give, to answer your questions.”

That willingness to help others rubbed off, encouraging him to assist other students, especially foreign-born pupils struggling with English. “They have more of a challenge,” he said, “because some have to first translate English into their native language before they can work on math problems.”

In an Ordinary Differentials class, Lowery organized a student study group, even though he was already registering straight As, said Kaus. Lowery, she said, “Wasn’t so much a study group member as its own personal tutor.”

“You’ve got to show that compassion toward people,” Lowery added, “Sometimes all it takes is one person to help a student get over the hump.”

Lowery was also motivated to pursue a college degree because of his father, Paul Sr. The elder Lowery graduated with degrees in business administration and mechanical engineering. His mother, Lucy, earned a nursing degree.

“[My father’s] presence was not necessarily appreciated [in college], because he was not the right color,” said Lowery. “Some professors didn’t want him there, so I have a lot of appreciation for what my dad accomplished. My father gave me a huge example to follow.”

Lowery, a 1972 graduate of North Saint Paul High School and a 1977 graduate of the Minnesota Military Academy, hopes to serve as a math high school instructor, perhaps in an urban setting. He is tutoring math students at North Minneapolis High School—an eye-opening experience. Lowery is especially troubled that students’ learning is impaired by lack of materials, support and family stability. One student produced a list of seven classmates who had been shot or stabbed in the past year.

“[The urban setting] seems to be where the greatest need is,” said Lowery. “That’s where kids need the most encouragement.”

Lowery is a member of the River Valley Christian Church, Lake Elmo, where he also tutors math students. He is married and has two sons, Alex, 21 and Paul III (Trey), 22. Metropolitan State University, a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, provides quality, higher-education programs for adults seeking baccalaureate and master’s degrees.

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