Professors Char Beckmann and Karen Novotny retire from the math department
Char Beckmann and Karen Novotny each retired at the end of the fall semester of 2019. Between them, Karen and Char served Grand Valley and the math department for over 60 years.
One of the core values of Grand Valley State University is our wholehearted commitment to undergraduate students: we want our students to grow as learners, to be challenged in their work, to be mathematically curious and competent, and then to go off and do great things. Both Char and Karen long exemplified these traits through their obvious care for students, their willingness to do work that was hard and demanding for them because it was for the good of their students, and their efforts to make the math department and university even better places for our students to thrive. We are incredibly grateful to both of them. And both of them had long and impressive lists of achievements during their careers.
Char Beckmann earned her PhD from Western Michigan University in 1988 and served on the GVSU faculty from 1988 to 2019. She was promoted to full professor in 1999.
Char is an award-winning teacher and scholar. Among many honors, she received the Michigan MAA’s Distinguished Teaching Award, Grand Valley’s Distinguished Contribution to a Discipline Award, and the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ Outstanding Achievement Award for contributions to mathematics education. In addition, Char has been recognized with GVSU’s Outstanding Community Service Award, and in 2009 she won a Fulbright Grant for a sabbatical abroad.
Her prolific record of scholarship includes more than 20 journal articles, more than a dozen book chapters, several textbooks and instructor manuals, and being a lead editor and author in The Adventures with Mathematics Series. Adventures with Mathematics is an amazing accomplishment: a 14-workbook series that offers supplementary active learning opportunities for students throughout the K12 curriculum. Beyond what it offers to students who engage the material, Char was one of the leaders of a huge collaborative authoring and editing effort involving pre-service teachers and faculty from several different institutions. Char’s leadership contributed both to the involvement of many talented people and also an impressive resulting product.
Char has been a leader in building a culture of cooperation and collaboration between mathematicians and mathematics educators. She did this locally here at GVSU, and regionally in Michigan through the Conversations Among Colleagues project. Her work led to all sorts of positive outcomes, including improvements to our own curriculum to better serve aspiring teachers and indeed all of our students. Char was an incredibly hard working and devoted colleague, one who has made a big impact on her field and on everyone she works with. We are so grateful for her work.
Karen Novotny earned her PhD from Western Michigan University in 1989 and served at GVSU from 1988 (beginning here even before she finished her PhD) to 2019; she was promoted to full professor in 2004.
Karen taught 18 different courses in our curriculum, which is among the widest diversity of teaching experience of anyone in the department. She was known for being willing to teach as many as 4 different proof-based courses in a single semester, a workload that almost nobody else has been able or willing to undertake. Karen has also supervised several independent studies and 5 honors theses. She would often do these individualized teaching assignments in addition to a heavy load and without formal credit for them.
In 1993, Karen won GVSU’s Outstanding Teacher Award. This is the university’s highest teaching honor and it is given to a single Grand Valley faculty member each year. She is one of just three math faculty to win it, and the only one to do so while still an assistant professor. Karen is the author of 9 refereed journal articles, plus an editor of and contributor to the Adventures with Mathematics series in collaboration with Char Beckmann and others.
Karen engaged in a deep and wide-ranging history of service activities at Grand Valley. For many years, she was an assistant chair in the math department and made major contributions to our personnel committee and processes. She also served on the college personnel committee and as a member and chair of the university-wide Faculty Personnel Policy Committee.
For the final three years of her career, Karen served as chair of the mathematics department. In that role, Karen oversaw a host of important issues such as the development of our new applied math major, hiring of new faculty, annual faculty reviews, staffing and scheduling for our courses, and much more. But through it all, her work as chair was focused in the same way that her longstanding service to GVSU was: on students. Even though as chair she was only teaching one course, Karen could often be found in the Peer Collaboration Space, holding office hours and working with students, many of whom were not in Karen’s classes. She was always known to students for being demanding (and particular!) all while caring immensely for their well-being.
Karen often took on work and assignments that were very difficult and not sufficiently recognized, but important to students. Karen was an amazingly dedicated colleague and servant to the university. We are so grateful for her work.
To our colleagues Karen and Char: we wish you both a long, joyful, and well-deserved retirement. Thank you for all of the ways you made GVSU Mathematics better.