Faculty Members Engage, Mentor and Challenge their Students
The words – approachable, supportive, dedicated, mentor – appear again and again in letters of nomination and recommendation for the 2015 winners of NSM’s John C. Butler Excellence in Teaching Award.
Paige Evans, clinical associate professor with teachHOUSTON, and Mark Tomforde, associate professor of mathematics, are the 2015 recipients of the Butler Award. Established in memory of former College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Dean John Butler, the award recognizes faculty members who best engage and challenge their students and who share their enthusiasm for the subject matter they teach.
Each year, the Butler award is given to one instructional faculty member and one tenured/tenure-track faculty member and includes a $5,000 prize. Nominations may be made by NSM departments, student organizations, faculty, students and staff. Evans and Tomforde received letters of nomination and support from faculty and staff members, current students and former students.
Paige Evans – teachHOUSTON
Evans, a science master teacher for UH’s teachHOUSTON program, is the epitome of the qualities that embody an effective teacher. She is passionate about teachHOUSTON’s mission to combat the shortage of qualified math and science teachers in the U.S. by providing early and on-going field-based teaching experiences for students working to attain bachelor’s degrees in math or science.
With UH since 2008, Evans has developed and taught all of the field-based courses in the teachHOUSTON program. In addition, she created three additional courses to better prepare future math and science teachers: “Science as Inquiry,” “Gifted and Talented in Math and Sciences Education,” and “Physics for Pre-Service Teachers.” As noted in a letter of recommendation, “Paige has spent countless hours developing curriculum that guides and challenges her students … her enthusiasm is contagious in her classroom.”
Her work in 2014-2015 to design a Massive Open Online Course to prepare students for the AP Physics 1 exam is impacting students worldwide. In 2015, the course served more than 5,781 students located in 130 countries.
Evans’ students appreciate how approachable she is and her willingness to ensure their success. A current teachHOUSTON student describes her as a hard-working professor and mentor stating, “she has encouraged me to reach my full potential as a student and future teacher, as she does with any student who seeks her guidance.” After she grades homework, Evans often prepares a short video to show students how to solve commonly missed problems.
One former student wrote that “her impact extends beyond the students she taught personally as her influence continues to enrich the learning of all students taught by graduates of the teachHOUSTON program.”
Mark Tomforde – Mathematics
Tomforde, who joined the UH faculty in 2006, is characterized as enthusiastic in introducing students to new and challenging material. This enthusiasm reaches not only his students but also high school students from neighborhoods around UH.
He created a new course for undergraduates, “Transitions to Advanced Mathematics,” to help increase students’ readiness for proof-laden junior and senior level math courses. By its second year, the course became required for all undergraduate math majors and minors. One of his students described the class as “one of the most important courses I have taken for laying groundwork for my mathematics career.”
His teaching is highly regarded. One letter of recommendation stated: “He goes far beyond the responsibilities of a good instructor and makes true and long-lasting investments in students with absolutely no external incentive to do so. ... I have personally become a better mathematician and student through his guidance.”
With his support, students organized a UH American Mathematical Society Graduate Student Chapter. He also serves as advisor for the undergraduate Pi Mu Epsilon Honor Society and math club. One letter of nomination sites his work to organize events for undergraduates as helping create a “sense of community” in the math program.
In 2013, Tomforde organized the Cougars and Houston Area Math Program (CHAMP), which targets students from underserved high schools near UH. The volunteer-driven program meets two afternoons per week at UH for 10 weeks each semester. For many high school students, it is their first time on a college campus. The program provides lessons on higher mathematical topics taught in an approachable way and encourages students to consider STEM fields.
CHAMP is also making an impact on the UH students serving as volunteers; one volunteer stated, “It has become a major goal of mine to replicate a program like this in the future, and Dr. Tomforde will serve as a role model.”
- Kathy Major, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics