• B.A. in Mathematics, University of Mississippi (1995)
• B.S. in Biology, University of Mississippi (1995)
• M.S. in Mathematics, University of Mississippi (1999)
• Ph.D. work in Mathematics (ABD status), University of Mississippi
• Ph.D. work in Secondary Mathematics Education (ABD status), University of Mississippi
• Mathematics faculty member, University of Mississippi, 1998-2004
• Mathematics faculty member, Mesa State College, 2004-2011
• TTU Mathematics faculty member since 2011
My students who learn about parametric equations would agree...time can do curious things. Twenty-five years ago, I was a college senior, double-majoring in biology and mathematics. I was by that point almost completely absorbed by the former, as all my concentration lay on my imminent admission to medical school. Mathematics had always been merely a cherished hobby, my second major an afterthought meant to bring structure to a desire to take a range of courses beyond the calculus sequence. My focus, however, remained on my chosen career path of becoming a physician.
Within three years, everything had changed. I discovered that medicine in practice was vastly different from theory, and I trudged through my medical school years uninspired. I found the material to be hopelessly grounded in rote memorization, the teachers—most of them other physicians, who rotated in and out of the classroom for short, month-long blocks—well-meaning but bland, and the experience of working with patients lacking the sort of rush my classmates seemed to enjoy. The future seemed to promise only long years of more of the same, as we moved into our clinical rotations.
It was then, by the purest of circumstance, that I stopped to re-evaluate my situation. Through a course on biostatistics, I found my love of mathematics re-emerging from its long slumber, and I began to recall a curious public admission. On our first day in medical school, we had each introduced ourselves to the class with a bit of personal history. I had stood and informed my confused colleagues that I was different from the rest of them, in that I was unlikely to actually go into private practice, hoping instead to become a teacher at a medical school. In retrospect, the message could not have been clearer. I had learned three crucial things: I finally realized which subject truly moved me, I understood why students need to be inspired, and I knew that the challenge of becoming an outstanding teacher was my true goal. Returning to my old school for a visit, I was recruited by the chairman to return to mathematics. Finally feeling free to pursue a career that inspired me, I took the plunge, and have never regretted leaving medicine behind.
Why? Because I love teaching. It is enlightening, to be sure, but is also…fun. It is the great motive force in my life, the activity in my daily schedule that most brings the spring back to my step. I breeze into my classes feeling renewed, a surprising personal revelation for someone who was once a painfully shy public speaker. As a teacher, I have certainly been shaped by the many great educators who have taught me over the years—in subjects ranging from mathematics to organic chemistry to history—but also my mother, whose graduate-school textbooks sit on my shelves today, my crayon scribbles adding a bit of flair. From them, I have come to understand that the key component to insuring success in triggering a student’s potential is often the instructor’s willingness to roll up his or her sleeves and slug it out in the trenches of mathematics alongside them. Although I am a strong advocate in the use of technology in the classroom, I am also quite convinced that it is not a panacea, but merely a marvelous tool, to help add color and vitality to a presentation and assist with tasks that were once too unwieldy for proper classroom discussion. I have always tried to convince my students that, regardless of their grade, I still consider trying their hardest to be the best definition of success, and the primary quality of my ideal student. When I hear from former students still waiting years later for me to be assigned to their next course, I take that as a sign that I must be doing something right.
As a mathematician who had the good fortune to marry a world history professor, I have been able to enjoy the best of both worlds, with a background in combinatorics research now giving way to an increased interest in the history of mathematics, one of the more enjoyable courses I teach here at Tennessee Tech. Through my wife’s efforts helping students enjoy TTU’s generous study-abroad program, we have been able to take many groups of students overseas for class trips across Europe. And even when it’s just the two of us, you can often find us spending a summer in Paris, learning new secrets about the City of Lights by day and enjoying a stroll down its meandering back streets by night. Next time you pass that way, why don’t you stop by the corner café to savor a croissant with us? If you can’t find us there, you might look for us at Busch Stadium, where we’ll be watching the mighty St. Louis Cardinals continue their march toward another world championship.