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Sectional and National Awards for Distinguished Teaching

Dennis DeTurck

Twenty-four mathematicians received this year's Section Distinguished Teaching Awards, conferred at the Spring meetings of each of the Sections of the MAA. Their pictures appear on pages xxx. The twenty-four section award winners represent the very highest level of mathematics teaching. Dedicated, caring, inspiring, and innovative, they all richly deserve the honors accorded them by their sections. They are all winners

Of the twenty-four sectional winners, three are selected to receive the national Deborah and Franklin Haimo Awards for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. This year's winners are Dennis DeTurck of the University of Pennsylvania, Paul J. Sally, Jr. of the University of Chicago, and Edward L. Spitznagel, Jr. of Washington University in St. Louis. The three recipients of the Haimo Award will each give a talk at the January Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego. The talks will be on Tuesday, January 8, from 3:30 to 5:00 pm.

People reach for words like “creative” and “charismatic” when they want to describe Dennis DeTurck. In addition to being a brilliant classroom teacher who inspires students at all levels to learn and to love the subject, DeTurck has created a variety of programs to enhance the teaching and learning of mathematics and science. He founded the Middle Atlantic Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications Across the Curriculum, which creates and disseminates interdisciplinary course materials. He serves as the faculty coordinator for America Counts at the University of Pennsylvania, which sends some 40 undergraduates to spend 8 to 10 hours a week as tutors in West Philadelphia schools. He also plays an active role in the Penn Summer Science Academy, a pre-freshman program emphasizing Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry. DeTurck is a creative user of technology. He teaches a web-based course on Ideas in Mathematics and was instrumental in introducing substantial use of computers in the calculus classes at Penn. His many-faceted work adds up to a distinguished career dedicated to the teaching of mathematics and science.

Paul Sally is a respected research mathematician working in representation theory, but he is also committed to educational excellence at all levels. His superb classroom teaching and his long-range educational programs have impacted thousands of students and teachers. Sally is Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Mathematics Department of the University of Chicago. In addition to his excellent classroom teaching, he has coached the Putnam team, helped to establish a math club, and has overseen calculus courses at all levels. He has had many Ph.D. students who have gone on to distinguished careers of their own.

But Sally also has had an impact on school mathematics. In 1983, he became director of the University of Chicago Mathematics Project, a leading education reform effort. Within this project he worked with teachers from school districts all over the country. In 1992, he founded SESAME (Seminars for Elementary Specialists and Mathematics Educators), a professional development program for elementary school teachers in the Chicago public schools. He co-founded a Young Scholars Program for mathematically talented students, providing personal mentoring and encouragement. The broad impact of his work marks him as an exceptional educator.

Edward Spitznagel

Edward Spitznagel is described by members of the Mathematics Department at Washington University in St. Louis as their “preeminent teacher, preeminent statistics guru, and preeminent computer jock.” His lectures on statistics are packed with real-world applications, often drawn from his own current research work. His courses make effective use of computers, with students typically using a computer on the second day of class. His breadth of scholarship and his collaborations with investigators in medicine, pharmacology, marketing, engineering, and psychology allow him to fill his examples from the real world. It is no wonder that students regularly oversubscribe his courses. His creativity is not limited to statistics courses. When his department decided to create a calculus sequence for pre-med students, Spitznagel devised a course based on research in pharmacokinetics that introduces students to both statistical and calculus techniques in medicine. It has been enthusiastically received both by the students and by their pre-med advisors. Such creativity and dedication are typical of Spitznagel. He is a truly great teacher who has had extraordinary success in applying his vast practical experience his great enthusiasm to the classroom.

Since teaching is one of the main concerns of the MAA, it is fitting that these sectional and national awards serve to identify, honor, and reward exceptional college and university teaching. J. J. Price, chair of the Committee on the Haimo Awards, noted that not all sections chose winners. “The national committee urges all sections to continue to nominate and recognize their outstanding teachers and encourages all members of the Association to nominate worthy candidates,” he said. The participation of more MAA members in this process can only make the awards even more valuable as a tribute to talented teachers who have a deep impact on many student lives.

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News Date: 
Monday, January 1, 2001