David Austin receives national MAA teaching award
David Austin received the 2021 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award from the Mathematical Association of America. The Haimo Award is the MAA’s highest teaching prize and “honors college or university professors who have been widely recognized as extraordinarily successful and whose teaching effectiveness has been shown to have had influence beyond their own institutions.” Among his many accomplishments that contributed to this recognition, David is known as an exceptional classroom teacher who engages his students actively, who uses modern technologies to strengthen students’ understanding of mathematics and its applications, and as an author and programmer who writes and illustrates mathematics for wide audiences to improve humankind’s understanding of mathematics.
His students offer wide-ranging praise for his work at Grand Valley:
“Dr. Austin brings an innovative element to his teaching of mathematics. His encouragement of the use of technology as a tool to help understand concepts gives students a wider view of the applications of mathematics. The tools I’ve learned from him have translated to my internship and effectively trained me to be able to learn new programs more easily. “
“As Dr. Austin’s student, I witnessed his unending desire to help students learn. Whether it was answering emails late at night or meeting up outside of his office hours, Dr. Austin has always been extremely helpful and respectful as a professor. For my entire life I have struggled to ‘get’ math. Before even beginning in his class for the first time, I told him about this, and mentioned my desires to improve. As a result of this, Dr. Austin set aside special time, gave additional resources, and recommended extra reading to help me understand.”
“Because I took early mathematics classes with Dr. Austin, mentored FIRST Robotics with him, and saw how happy he is with teaching mathematics to everybody, it inspired me to add a mathematics major to my existing Computer Science major. In doing so, it actually delayed my graduation by a semester, but it was totally worth it. Now I find myself trying to add mathematics into everything I do. Dr. Austin became one of my most valued mentors not only in mathematics, but in life.”
David is also well-known for his work as an author and mathematical illustrator. Since 2005, he has been one of a small number of authors of regular American Mathematical Society Feature Columns, online essays that are “designed for those who have already discovered the joys of mathematics as well as for those who may be uncomfortable with mathematics”, written at the level of an advanced undergraduate audience. Over the past 15 years, David has authored nearly 50 gems of mathematical exposition, pieces that aim to bring new developments and classical insights to a general audience. He regularly hears from readers around the world – including undergraduates – who learn new ideas from reading his work.
David’s most recent major project is his new free, open-source textbook, Understanding Linear Algebra, that many GVSU faculty use in teaching our new introductory linear algebra courses, Linear Algebra 1 and 2. This text is accessible to first-year students, engages them in active learning, and emphasizes the power of applications such as computer animations, the JPEG compression algorithm, dynamical systems and Markov processes, and the Google PageRank algorithm, all in a first-semester course. The text includes interactive mathematical graphics and embedded Sage cells for computation.
David has been heavily involved in the new applied emphasis in the mathematics major. One of his key contributions has been teaching the applied math capstone, Project-Based Applied Mathematics, in which he supervises teams of 4-5 students who work as consultants to different organizations or businesses to use mathematics to provide insight on real world problems. Many students in the capstone course report how much they appreciate the class, sharing such feedback as, “This was my favorite course I've taken within my major thus far. I really enjoyed the challenge this course presented, having to develop a problem and analyze the data available to us to create meaningful results and a deliverable product. I’ve always known mathematics can help solve a wide range of problems outside my usual coursework, so this class was a great way to see that in action. Working in a team was its own challenge and helped me develop my communication skills.”
Beyond Grand Valley, David is a director of the Alliance of Indigenous Math Circles (AIMC), and for the past three summers has co-organized and worked at the summer camps put on by AIMC. Himself one of a very small number of Native American PhD mathematicians, David is using his time, energy, and teaching talents to make mathematics more accessible to Indigenous students and teachers and to make the mathematics community a more inclusive one. In addition, since 2008 David has been a mentor for the Allendale Robotics team, and in recent years has developed a statewide reputation as a programming mentor for high school robotics teams. He is about half-way through the development of a free, open-source, self-paced book on robotics programming that high-school robotics programs around the country will be able to use to help their students learn and grow.
We congratulate David on this outstanding award and thank him for all of his tremendous contributions to GVSU Mathematics. You can learn more about his work in the GVNext article about him winning the Haimo Award.