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   from the issue of January 12, 2006


Walker earns national teaching honor


Judy Walker, associate professor of mathematics, has become accustomed to seeing two comments paired consistently on her students' evaluations: this is the hardest class I have ever taken; I loved it more than any other class.


Such divergent comments reflect Walker's teaching ability, an ability that will gain national recognition Jan. 14 when she receives the Mathematical Association of America's Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics.

To Walker, teaching is simple: "Math is beautiful. It is my job as a professor of mathematics to expose students to that beauty."

While she may make teaching sound and look simple, there has been evidence of Walker's passion for and commitment to the profession since she joined UNL's math department in 1996. Not the least of which is a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for Nebraska Mentoring through Critical Transition Points, of which Walker is project director. The grant focuses on easing student transitions from undergraduate school to graduate school and from graduate school to professional employment. The MCTP grant will fund the Nebraska IMMERSE program, undergraduate research, summer workshops for recent doctoral graduates, a regional workshop, the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics and six graduate traineeships each year.

"We are extremely excited about Judy and consider her to be a role model - a complete faculty member - in all ways," said John Meakin, chair of the department. "It's not just that she is an excellent classroom teacher: Judy's influence extends well beyond the classroom, having national scope, and brings major recognition to herself and to our department."

The breadth of Walker's interests includes research, classroom teaching, graduate education and outreach teaching or service.

Walker is pleased UNL has "a good balance" between teaching and research.

"I am in a department that values both," she said. "Students need to know what they are learning is on the cutting edge."

Walker leads by redesigning and developing courses. During the 1998-1999 academic year, she reviewed the goals and objectives for Math 203: Contemporary Mathematics, redesigning the course that serves more than 700 students annually. She also created Math189H: The Joy of Numbers - Stalking the Big Primes, the university's first freshman honors seminar in mathematics.

"I asked Judy if she would be interested in developing a course," said Jim Lewis, professor of mathematics, former department chair and point person in Walker's award's nomination process.

Lewis said that was all it took. Walker created not only an honors seminar for those who are not necessarily mathematically inclined, but also an avenue that has drawn students to the mathematics profession.

"You have to engage students; that's the key," Walker said.

Walker insists her teaching style works better in small groups than large lectures

"I prefer a more conversational approach and expect my students to read before coming to class even though many math books are not written to be read by students," Walker said.

Walker's love of mathematics does not stop at the classroom door. As Lewis sees it, her creativity has brought national attention, and her teaching is "teaching writ large."

In 1997, she and colleague Wendy Hines started a mathematics camp called ALL GIRLS/ALL MATH for high school girls. Walker, program director from 1998 to 2000, continues to be involved in the program. Each year, 28 students are selected nationally for the weeklong experience. The goal is to provide a community in the hope the girls continue to study math.

Walker's initiative in nominating her department for the 1998 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring lead to the creation of the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics, a conference started in celebration of the award. Walker has been chair or co-chair of the organizing committee all but one year. The conference draws top undergraduate female mathematics majors and offers many the opportunity to talk about their research.

"I think it is an incredibly important discipline," Walker said, "so much is based on mathematics. It is not necessarily the most glamorous, so it is easy for the public to direct funding away from mathematics to other fields, but so much of what is exciting and glamorous in the other sciences is based on mathematics."

Nomination guidelines for the Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics include:

- Be widely recognized as extraordinarily successful in their teaching.

- Have teaching effectiveness that can be documented.

- Have an influence in their teaching beyond their own institution.

- Foster curiosity and generate excitement about mathematics in students.



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