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Cynthia Curtis Receives MAA-NJ Award for Teaching

Cynthia Curtis Receives MAA-NJ Award for Teaching

Congratulations to Dr. Cynthia Curtis, who has received the NJ Section of the Mathematical Association of America’s 2017 Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. This award is given “to honor college or university teachers who have been widely recognized as extraordinarily successful, and whose teaching effectiveness has been shown to have had influence beyond their own institutions.” Dr. Curtis is the third TCNJ Mathematics & Statistics Department faculty member to have received this award since 2014, following Dr. Jana Gevertz in 2016, and Dr. Karen Clark in 2014.

From the award citation: “Dr. Curtis has demonstrated that she is an excellent teacher both in the classroom and in her work with undergraduate students on research projects. She has been twice honored by TCNJ students as a Teacher of the Year (2001, 2006). Part of Dr. Curtis’ success is due  to the relaxed atmosphere she creates in the classroom. Students feel free to speak up and participate and Dr. Curtis has designed all her classes to maximize student involvement. Her students comment that she makes an effort to adapt her teaching to accommodate students’ differing learning styles. Her colleagues comment that Dr. Curtis believes that our students are capable of achieving high levels of mastery and dedicates herself to seeing that they manifest these capabilities. Her students reinforce this idea by saying that ‘she saw potential in my mathematical abilities before I saw the potential myself.’

“Over a decade ago, Dr. Curtis created an upper-level math course focused  on  knot  geometry.  Usually  taught  every  two  years,  this course  has  been  extremely  successful  in  engaging  students.  It  is taught in a unique way emphasizing students mastering the material, and students are encouraged to keep revising their homework problems until they demonstrate high proficiency with the material. This  feedback-intensive  experience  has  been  noted  by  former students as having been instrumental in improving their proof-writing skills and in greatly enhancing their abstract mathematical thinking. In addition, in this class Dr. Curtis allows students to teach a lecture during the semester, offering students invaluable experience in mastering  material  well  enough  to  present  to  peers,  under  Dr. Curtis’s careful guidance.

Outside the classroom, Dr. Curtis has also distinguished herself. One of her lasting contributions to the Mathematics and Statistics department at TCNJ was her early championing of undergraduate research in mathematics. She has served as a leader in cultivating a culture in the department where faculty can imagine ways in which they can bring students into their research programs. Over the past 14 years, she has worked with 47 students in independent studies, undergraduate research, honors projects, and capstone projects. Twenty-two of these students worked with Dr. Curtis on undergraduate research projects, and thirteen of these students (thus far) pursued graduate study in mathematics. The research results of four students were published in two papers in the Journal of Knot Theory and its Ramifications, and a third paper is under review.

“Dr. Curtis is also a caring advisor and mentor for her students. Her students speak of the guidance Dr. Curtis provided them, and she is an advocate for her students and helps them to fully develop their potential. As an advisor of approximately 17 students a year, Dr. Curtis is very attentive to detail and frequently checks with her colleagues to ensure that students are receiving the best advice. Formally, she has served as one of the department’s advisors for REUs and Graduate Schools for the past two years and has also served as the department’s liaison for the Celebration of Student Achievement in the past.

“Dr. Curtis has also served the larger mathematical community. For the ten years from 2007-2016, she served as a member of the organizing committee for the Program for Women in Mathematics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. This annual program is an eleven day mentoring program for undergraduate and graduate women in mathematics. It has had a significant impact in  our profession, with participants receiving 26% of the female NSF postdoctoral awards in the 1995-2015 time period. Dr. Curtis was  also one of four co-organizers who successfully obtained an Association for Women in Mathematics grant to fund a Sonya Kovalevsky Day. The grant funded a one-day conference at TCNJ in 2011 and 2012 for area high school girls and their teachers to encourage the study of mathematics.

“Dr. Curtis has made an outstanding contribution to the teaching of Mathematics at The College of New Jersey and has had a profound impact on her students.”

For more information, please see MAA-NJ’s website.