Leaving behind a legacy: a teacher’s untold story

Oana Rus has shown perseverance in the face of many challenges throughout her life to pursue her love for math


Josie Fitzpatrick

Oana Rus moved to the United States from Romania, sharing her passion for math with students.

Marley Helfer, Staff Reporter

On a normal day, she would return from school and enter her family’s apartment to find 20 to 30 shoes at the entrance. The rooms of her home were filled with kids doing math late into the night, full of laughter and positive energy.

Many students know Oana Rus as the enthusiastic, hard working calculus teacher at Ballard High School. However, not many know the path she took to get here, or the resilience and dedication it took for her to be able to pursue math and teaching. 

Growing up in Romania, Rus’s household was always busy. 

“We lived in a two bedroom apartment, and there [were] 20, 30 pairs of shoes when you walk in,” Rus said. “There’s kids in one room, kids in the kitchen finishing homework. It’s this whole vibe of a school.”

Her father’s work as a computer programmer, math teacher and math tutor meant she was constantly surrounded by other kids.

“I’m a single child, but I never felt like that,” Rus said. “My siblings were the kids that were in my house.”

Math was at the center of this busy energy. 

“People laugh and have fun,” she said. “That has been my life, and my family’s life.”

However, her love of math didn’t only stem from her family.

“It wasn’t so much about grades … [but] I was the only one in my generation to have that much of a passion for [math],” Rus said. “I [would] put my feet up on the wall, and I would think about [a hard problem] for an hour or two, and then pick it back up the next day and try again.”

She [Rus] is incredibly hardworking, probably one of the most hardest working people that I’ve ever met. [She] cares about her students and really gets to know them.

— Sophiana Banholzer

Romania also has a strong presence in the International Mathematical Olympiad, one of the best math competitions in the world. 

“I went to math olympiads all my life,” Rus said. “I started out in fourth grade, I won first in the district the first time I went … Romania always places really high at International Olympiads, so there’s a strong culture of math.”

While Rus was surrounded by positivity and learning in her childhood, there were aspects of her time in Romania that were challenging.

Romania was under communist rule while Rus was growing up. For her, this meant food was a constant struggle.

“There was always a scarcity of food,” Rus said. “There was always that piece where there wasn’t something in the store.”

Her restricted access to food has become an enduring piece of her childhood.

“I remember sitting in lines all my life,” she said. “My mother would not send me to the meat lines, because once those doors opened, it was a full on stampede. It was very dangerous.”

At the age of 12, Rus experienced the fall of the communist rule in Romania in 1989 and the return of a strong sense of culture to the country. 

“Romania now has such a strong culture of food,” Rus said. “If you go to somebody’s house [now], they will bring out so many dishes.” 

However, these experiences will continue to live on for Rus. 

“Some things never die… just the idea that I need to make sure that I have enough food,” she said.

Rus would eventually pursue a path in computer science, which wasn’t all that easy to come by in Romania. 

“To enter high school, you have a competition,” Rus said. 

In Romania, at the end of 8th grade, all students take a nationwide test that can only be taken once. Scoring highly places a student into an academic high school. 

“I have a minor in computer science as a result of going to high school,” she said.

After earning a master’s degree in Romania, Rus and her husband moved to the United States in 2001.

“I always knew I was going to teach, I decided in maybe fifth or sixth grade,” Rus said. “That was never the question, but which country was I going to teach in?”

She came to the U.S. through work, but before pursuing teaching in the U.S., she had to yet again overcome a barrier.

“When I came here as an immigrant, it took several years to get work authorization,” she said. “So in the meantime, I went to the University of Washington …  It was so different [from] the schooling systems that I went under.”

She went on to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate from the UW. 

Now a teacher at BHS, Rus has brought her experiences from her incredible path to her job and students.

  “I try my best to educate students about different cultures in different environments where they come from,” Rus said. 

Rus is now a member of the Racial Equity Team (RET) and has been at the school for 15 years.

“What I want to leave with me as a legacy as being at Ballard for so many years is the love of math, and the love of critical thinking and reasoning and the fun they have in class,” Rus said.

Her passion for learning has become evident to her students as well. 

“Everyone feels connected in the class,” senior Hahna Beaudoin said. “She’s a very fun teacher, very friendly, and she makes a lot of jokes.”

This is a common feeling among her students.

“Her energy is really infectious,” junior Ella Delaney said. “She’s easy to like because she puts so much effort into her teaching.”

Science teacher Sophiana Banholzer has worked with Rus both in the classroom and through the RET.

“She is incredibly hard working, probably one of the hardest working people that I’ve ever met,” Banholzer said.

After years of education, overcoming challenges, and leaving an impact on countless students at the school, Rus continues to teach out of care for the community.

What I want to leave with me as a legacy as being at Ballard for so many years is the love of math and the love of critical thinking and reasoning.

— Oana Rus

“It’s very clear that she cares about everyone,” Banholzer said. “[She] cares about her students and really gets to know her students.”

Behind her desk sits a drawer of a cabinet, filled with piles of cards from students.

“I call my kids my retirement plan because I am not so worried what’s going to happen,” Rus said as she picked up handful after handful of messages from students. 

As Rus continues to teach at BHS, her dedication and care for her work, students and the community will continue to create her legacy. 

“I hope that [when] I leave here the people that I’m trying to help … will achieve all the things that they want in life,” Rus said. “And at some point, when they become famous scientists or mathematicians or whatever they want to become, I’ll be a nod somewhere. That is a life well lived.”