Math professor wins national award

Claire Voltarel, Campus Carrier Staff Writer

Ron Taylor, professor of mathematics at Berry, was recognized for his successful efforts in the classroom by receiving The Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA). Taylor was one of three professors to receive recognition for “Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics.”

“On the list of people who have won are some very famous people in the mathematical community, lots of whom I look up to as mentors,” Taylor said. “It’s just amazing that I’m on the list with them.” 

The MAA honored Taylor for the Inquiry-Based Learning approach he applies to his classroom. According to Taylor, this method of teaching attempts to veer away from lecture-based teaching and create a supportive environment for students to learn together via group guided worksheets or student presentations. Students then take on the role of prompting and answering questions, ultimately teaching each other and themselves. 

“In almost every case by the end of the semester students have developed a real sense of community and feel comfortable asking questions,” Taylor said. 

Junior Jessica Will and senior Camilla Packroff attested to his unique and open teaching style. 

“He’s always there if you need help, but he’s not just going to give you all the answers,” Will said. “He’ll give you the tools you need to make you figure it out on your own.” 

Packroff noted that while the classes were difficult, Taylor encouraged students to enjoy what they were doing. 

To further encourage community and excitement in mathematics, Taylor began Berry’s “Dead Poets Society” in the fall of 2006. The name was inspired by speech given at the MAA summer math meeting which referenced a particular scene in the movie relating to the thrill of mathematical discovery. Taylor began the group to encourage students to enjoy doing math through games with friends, rather than being required to in class. 

“It’s a place where students can go and remember why they liked math in the first place,” Taylor said. 

The recognition for his teaching achievements took place at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in San Diego on Jan. 13, the world’s largest gathering of mathematicians. Taylor was given the award and spoke at the event.

In his speech, Taylor said, “Through their curiosity and willingness to embrace my sometimes alternative teaching methods, [my students] have helped guide me to a deeper appreciation of mathematics at the same time as I was aiming to guide them to a greater understanding of mathematics.” 

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