McCallum students can ‘count’ on Cowles

Affable math teacher excels at many roles from stats expert to PALS sponsor, master chef to dutiful dad, family man


Dave Winter

COUNTING ON YOU: Posing next to a poster advertising the blood drive made by senior and PAL Marina Garfield, the Count, also known as statistics teacher Richard Cowles, was Bram Stoked for this year’s blood drive on Feb. 1. The Count has been lurking the hallways of McCallum for at least nine years, but his origins date back to Cowles’ college days. Being a math teacher, of course, I’ve always liked Count Von Count,” he said, “but my college job was cooking at Chili’s, and I would have to call down to the grill and say ‘I need one grilled chicken! Ha, ha, ha!’ It became a habit, and since vampires and blood go together, I kept it up and people seem to like it here.” (Editor’s note: previous quote must be read in Transylvanian accent.)

Anna McClellan and Madelynn Niles

It’s 11:09 a.m. You just arrived at your second class of the day, and the morning announcements sound over the loudspeakers. All of a sudden, a familiar voice comes on, “Good morning … This … is the Count.”

Although the purple Muppet was unable to travel all the way from Sesame Street to deliver this message, someone just as friendly and just as (if not more) math-oriented is behind the voice.

Richard Cowles teaches AP Statistics, geometry and sponsors the McCallum Peer-Assisted Leadership and Service program. Cowles has been teaching at McCallum for 25 years, though his original goal was to become an electrical engineer.

He always listens to what you have to say, and he will always help you in any way that he can.

— senior Silvio Guzman on teacher Richard Cowles

“The first two years went very well,” Cowles said of his time as an engineering major at the University of Texas at Austin. “And then year three it went from concrete, which made sense to me, to very abstract. My weaknesses my first year became everything. I wasn’t happy.”

After enrolling to help teach science classes through a program at the University of Texas called Project SEEE, or Science Enrichment in Elementary Education, Cowles discovered that, like his parents, his true passion was teaching.

“I found my purpose, and so I enrolled in the teaching program and did my student teaching here at McCallum.”

Through the program, Cowles was able to study abroad, where he found his passion for speaking another language and living in a foreign country. After some research, Cowles found the Peace Corps, which allowed him to teach and live abroad. He was invited to join the Peace Corps in Chad, and in July of 1993 flew halfway around the world and began his adventure.

“I was a mess,” Cowles said of his time learning French and preparing to teach students in Chad. “I was pretty convinced they were going to send me home because I couldn’t speak French. But it began to fall together, and then after two months we did student teaching where we went up to the capital and taught there, and that was when I realized I was going to be OK.”

In his two years abroad, Cowles taught sixth-grade students math, learned French and met his wife, Lynn, who was also doing a tour as a part of the Peace Corps. Upon returning from Chad, Cowles interviewed for a job at McCallum, where he’s been inspiring and educating students ever since.

The best things happened in my life because of volunteering.

— teacher Richard Cowles

Senior Silvio Guzman, who has Cowles for both AP Statistics and PALS, notes his kind mannerisms and how much he does to better the community around him.

“I like having him as a teacher because of the attention he gives to everyone,” Guzman said. “He always listens to what you have to say, and he will always help you in any way that he can.”

After 25 years, Cowles is finally not the only Cowles on campus. His daughter Sam is currently a sophomore at McCallum. Sam plays basketball, runs track and, for the most part, enjoys having her dad around school.

“If I need something like I forgot my homework or something, he has off periods which is really nice so he can run home and get my homework and stuff,” Sam explained. “Also, he’s like my personal locker, so if I happen to be carrying around a big project or something I can just drop it off in his classroom and get it later. Plus right after school, I don’t have to wait for my parents or anything and so I can just walk over to his classroom and then we go.”

Cowles is a true renaissance man, a loving dad, an excellent cook, an inspirational teacher and, through the PALS program, he continues to serve his community in myriad ways while encouraging his students to do the same, whether that be mentoring younger students, raising money and awareness for charitable causes or organizations.

All of these projects keep Cowles true to a principle of life he learned long ago.

“The best things happened in my life because of volunteering.”