Faculty in Focus
Tami Bailey, an Affiliate faculty member in the mathematics department, knew from an early age that mathematics was in her future. While she was in the 8th grade, her father was teaching a college-level course, Mathematics for Apprentices, and asked Tami to write one of his tests for him. Though she says the test she wrote was too hard, she has continued as a mathematics educator to this day.
After beginning her college career in mechanical engineering at Grand Rapids Community College, Tami moved to Aquinas and studied mathematics education. At that time, she began teaching geometry, trigonometry and industrial physics at GRCC. Thirteen years ago, Jan Shroyer, who knew Tami from Aquinas, asked Tami if she would like to teach at Grand Valley, and Tami has been teaching mathematics here ever since.
Tami says that Trigonometry is her favorite class to teach because the applications are so enjoyable. She has also enjoyed the remedial Math 097 since teaching it has helped her to understand more clearly the problems that students have with mathematics. Another rewarding experience has been with GVSU’s Freshman Academy, in which students with low SAT scores take six-week intensive courses in mathematics and writing the summer before they enter Grand Valley. The growth that students experience in this program, Tami says, is remarkable. Another favorite course because of the challenge she finds in teaching it is Discrete Mathematics.
Besides her enthusiasm for mathematics, Tami brings to her classes a clear dedication to her students and strives to make meaningful connections with them. For instance, when students tell her they are thinking of dropping her course because it is too challenging, Tami encourages them to stay in the course and works to develop their confidence. Students have told her that the faith she has in them makes them want to succeed.
Outside of teaching, Tami spends a lot of time in her backyard, which is about the size of a football field. Besides the swimming pool for cooling off on hot summer days, Tami enjoys gardening in the large vegetable garden, which provides a year-long supply of vegetables, and flower garden with plenty of daises and snapdragons. She also enjoys time with her two grandsons who keep her busy.
Will Dickinson’s mathematical interests emerged at a young age. As the proud young owner of a Commodore-64 computer, Will wrote a program to add fractions and later developed a strategy for trisecting angles using ruled graph paper. This fascination with geometry continued through his undergraduate degree at Cornell, his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania, and into the present day.
Since coming to Grand Valley six years ago, Will has worked to dramatically redesign two geometry courses so that they better serve the needs of the students. As a part of the Enhancing the Core project, a department-wide effort to make the relevance of mathematics content courses more clear to future teachers, Will designed many new activities, motivated by concepts in the K-12 curriculum, in which students in Euclidean Geometry were led to discover important university-level mathematical ideas. He then continued this theme into his Non-Euclidean Geometry course. The students’ response to these innovations has been enthusiastic. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see him walking to class carrying a variety of props, such as a globe, paper towel rolls, and a rather large pink plastic Easter egg.
This year, Will received the Pew Teaching with Technology Award, a university-wide teaching award designed to recognize the innovative and effective use of technology in teaching. In using technology, Will aims to create an environment in which students can explore, discover, and develop their intuition for important mathematical ideas. For instance, Will co-created a program, called Spherical Easel, that allows students to construct geometric figures on the sphere in an intuitive way. This program is now in use at several universities throughout the world.
In addition to his work in the classroom, Will has mentored several students recently in long-term undergraduate research projects both in Grand Valley’s Student Summer Scholars program and the department’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. In this work, Will and his students have conducted research into some questions in spherical geometry, given presentations at national conferences, and published papers describing their results.
Next fall, Will and his family will be living in Ithaca, New York as Will will be on sabbatical from Grand Valley to work at Cornell. More than just returning to his undergraduate institution, Will is also coming back to an area of research, equal circle packing, that interested him earlier in his career.
When not teaching, Will is an avid woodworker and has built many pieces of furniture, including a dining room table, dresser, and entertainment center, and plans to take on other ambitious woodworking projects in the future.
Don VanderJagt will be retiring from the mathematics department after forty-two years of service to Grand Valley. Don has been at Grand Valley longer than the mathematics department has existed, and he provides an interesting connection to the early days of the university and department that will certainly be missed.
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree from Hope College, Don promptly set out for graduate school at Florida State University, which was then just starting its Ph.D. program. When his faculty mentor left for another university, Don took a job offer at Central College in Iowa, where Don Lubbers was president and where Don taught for two years. Encouraged by relatives who lived in Muskegon, Don then came to Grand Valley in 1964, one year after the college opened. At that time, there were about 300 students enrolled in the college, there were only two buildings on campus (Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Halls), and Don was one of only two people teaching mathematics. The faculty was not yet grouped into academic departments.
Don has many interesting stories to tell about the early days of Grand Valley. For instance, he recalls how the faculty struggled to find the right balance between maintaining high standards and the desire to experiment with curricular innovations. This caused enrollment at the college to go up and down and there was some talk among government officials of closing the college and turning it into a prison.
Don served as the chair of the mathematics department for 24 years, during which time the department grew tremendously in both faculty and students. One of the most satisfying parts of the job, Don relates, was looking to the future and anticipating what needs would emerge. For instance, under Don’s leadership, the department developed courses in information systems, computer science and statistics, which eventually led to the computer science and statistics units within the university.
Besides this service to the university, Don was appointed by the president to be Grand Valley’s faculty representative to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). One of his responsibilities in this role has been to ensure that coaches are well informed on policies that are applicable to student-athletes.
After coming to Grand Valley, Don earned his Ph.D. from Western Michigan and has maintained an active research program in graph theory throughout his career. So what does a graph theorist do in his retirement? In Don’s case, he’ll be researching his family tree, a project on which he has worked for over ten years now. Currently, he has placed over three thousand people in his family tree and has found all of his ancestors back to the 1600’s and one branch to the 1300’s. In addition, Don and his wife Barbara, a retired elementary school teacher, love to travel having visited all 50 states and over 25 countries.
We would like to thank Don for his many years of dedicated service and wish him well as he begins his retirement.