April 28, 2014

Passion for showing the ‘beauty in math’ lands OTICA

Judy Walker
Criag Chandler | University Communications

Criag Chandler | University Communications
Judy Walker

EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the first of four features on UNL faculty who received University of Nebraska systemwide honors. This UNL Today series will continue daily to May 1.

Sometimes it’s hard to find beauty in everyday life. Not for Judy Walker.

“Mathematics really is beautiful,” she said. “Helping students look at mathematics beyond just a set of rules and procedures and see it instead as truth and as beauty is what I enjoy doing.”

Walker, chair and Aaron Douglas Professor of Mathematics, demonstrates this enjoyment with her students every day. It’s earned her the University of Nebraska systemwide Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award.

The award recognizes individual faculty members who have demonstrated meritorious and sustained records of excellence and creativity in teaching.

Fellow Aaron Douglas Professor Jim Lewis nominated Walker. Lewis hired Walker in 1996 and said in his nomination letter that “hiring Judy is easily one of the five most important things” he accomplished during his tenure as chair of the department of mathematics.

Walker has written courses, mentored graduate students and, by developing the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women, has helped thousands of undergraduate women succeed in mathematical careers.

“We believe that over time, the conference will merit part of the credit for helping change the gender distribution in our profession,” Lewis wrote.

The conference has already earned national acclaim, consistently earning funding from the National Science Foundation and earning the Programs That Make a Difference award in 2013 from the American Mathematical Society.

On campus, Walker has made significant strides in improving general education mathematics courses. Walker took the lead in reviewing the courses and worked to develop teaching methods that helped both students and the faculty be more successful in the classroom.

Walker said the reason she has accomplished so much at UNL is that she loves math and she loves sharing that with her students.

“The best thing about teaching math is watching students learn to recognize beauty in math and get excited by it,” Walker said. “It’s really fun when you see them have that ‘Aha’ moment. There’s nothing that compares to it.”

As department chair, she’s continued developing new curriculum, mentored graduate students and elevated the stature of the department.

“She is a visionary leader and contributes enormously to our reputation among math departments across America,” Lewis said. “She’s remarkably creative and a superb research scholar.”

OTICA Award: Judy Walker