For most people, “math” and “fun” are rarely used in the same sentence but Curtis Bennett, chair of Loyola Marymount University’s mathematics department, has been so successful at teaching math and making it fun that he received this year’s Distinguished Teaching Award from the Southern California-Nevada Section of the Math Association of America (MAA).
Bennett believes the key to success in the classroom is being able to connect with students, which is not always easy for a mathematics teacher.
He admits to constantly moving around the classroom and really trying to bring out the fun in math. “My strength is thinking on my feet and bringing people in,” said Bennett. “Every course, class and section is different from the next – every time! I wouldn’t want to teach every class the same way, by the same anticipated notes, even if I could.”
The MAA has 27 sections and recipients of the section Distinguished Teaching Award, such as Bennett, are automatically nominees for the Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. Three winners of this national award will be announced within the month. In order to be eligible, professors must be nominated by both colleagues and students.
“He always has his door open to students and still dedicates time to work with students individually despite his additional responsibilities and commitments as department chair,” said Mary Therese Padberg, a former student of Bennett’s. Students describe Bennett as energetic, enthusiastic, passionate, selfless, sincere and patient.
Faculty members echo that sentiment. “Bennett is one of the most collegial and collaborative colleagues that I have ever known, said Jacqueline Dewar, professor of mathematics at LMU.
Bennett has been teaching at LMU for seven years. His passion for the classroom could be attributed to three generations of professors in his family, but he explains otherwise. “I loved math and wanted to keep doing math, so to teach at the college level was a way to do so,” said Bennett. “It became clear that I liked to help people understand math.”
“Teaching is a wonderful profession and if you do it well, you get tenfold back from the students what you give,” said Bennett, “I love being able to work with a student and have them experience the joy that I get when I see a math problem. I wouldn’t choose another profession.”