By Jessica Sklar
PLU Math Department Chair & Professor
The PNW MAA is pleased to announce that the Distinguished Teaching Award Winner for 2019 is Tom Edgar of Pacific Lutheran University.
Tom completed his Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame and joined the faculty at PLU in 2009. Tom is an extraordinarily successful and dedicated teacher, who has had a profound impact on students and instructors both within and beyond his institution. He consistently looks for ways in which he can contribute to the mathematical community using his knowledge and teaching experience, and collaboration plays a starring role in his views and practice of mathematics.
Reading his student evaluations from PLU and watching him work with students – struggling students in service courses, senior majors working on capstones – it becomes clear that his enthusiasm is inspiring. Tom’s office hours and outside-of-office hours overflow with both current and former students, and Tom regularly introduces his colleagues to novel teaching practices: he was the first person in his department to implement biogs as a standard element of his courses, using them to help his students think about and write about mathematics, and he brought the SageMath computing environment to campus, using it to enhance student learning in his upper-level linear and abstract algebra courses. He also designed two innovative inquiry-based upper-level topics courses at PLU: an enumerative combinatorics course consisting of 150 problems and 20 probing summary questions, and a course that introduced approximately 120 “proofs without words” and required that students both discover the theorems that they represented, and write worded proofs for those theorems. He also has designed numerous guided-inquiry activities for other PLU courses of all levels.
His ability to engage and excite his students is reflected in the number of students who have chosen him to serve as their primary or secondary senior capstone advisor. Tom has been the capstone advisor for more than 50 PLU students; on average, he’s advised between a quarter and a third of PLU’s math major graduating class each year. Moreover, Tom’s work with undergraduate research students has been extensive and exceedingly productive. Tom twice received university summer support to fund PLU students to conduct research in combinatorial number theory, and he spent two summers as a mentor at the SUMmER REU at Seattle University. In all, he has conducted research with a total of 18 undergraduates from 10 different universities, resulting in 8 published papers so far and an Outstanding Student Poster award at the Joint Mathematics Meetings.
Tom’s work as a teacher extends beyond PLU in other ways. During three summers spent at the University of Notre Dame, he designed intensive 4-week inquiry-based workshops – one on probablity/statisitics, one on number theory, and one on linear algebra and voting theory – for high school teachers and students. More recently, Tom has begun working with kids aged 9-11 and their parents at Epsilon Camp, a two-week residential summer camp that seeks to “connect precocious children to professional mathematics, and build a supportive community with peers and families” through an intensive student program and parent workshop.