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Robert Powers honored for teaching

April 15th, 2009

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Robert Powers

Robert Powers
Mathematics, College of Arts and Sciences
Distinguished Teaching, full-time

Math isn’t always a student’s favorite subject — it can be complicated, abstract and seem useless to daily life for anyone outside a teaching or scientific profession.

But even students who go mentally kicking and screaming into a required math course taught by University of Louisville professor Robert Powers come out liking math and praising their teacher.

Powers has received a Distinguished Faculty Award for teaching.

A 20-year UofL veteran, Powers has taught mathematics at the 100, 200, 300, 500 and 600 levels; directed one Ph.D. dissertation and seven master’s theses; served on six other M.A. and Ph.D. committees; and supervised six independent study students.

Students at all levels recognize him for his patience, clarity, enthusiasm and emphasis on thinking through a problem, noted several supporters in letters to the DFA selection committee.

Powers credits his teaching style to the example his own math teachers set. Three in particular influenced him.

A high school teacher inspired him to be a math major in college with his enthusiasm for the subject. A professor at the undergraduate level modeled patience when Powers had trouble understanding the material, and his graduate dissertation adviser’s ability to make some difficult ideas seem straightforward motivated him to try to present mathematical ideas to his own students as clearly as possible.

His own students are following his example, too.

“Dr. Powers’ teaching greatly influences my own development as a teacher of mathematics,” said recent student Jeremy White, who teaches at Spalding University in Louisville. “I often try to recall memories of learning from the lectures presented by Dr. Powers when I am creating my own lesson plans. I attempt to imitate Dr. Powers’ style of patiently presenting the material.

“He is great presenter of mathematics,” White said. “He has a thorough knowledge of the subject and isn’t afraid to admit that he may not know the answer to every question that a student might ask.”

“My most important role as a teacher is to help my students learn,” Powers said. “There is a saying in mathematics: ‘The best way to learn mathematics is to do mathematics.’ So I require my students to work hard by doing mathematics.”

While he does this through homework problems, quizzes and exams, included in such practice is a healthy dose of thinking.

“I encourage problem-solving skills and mathematical intuition,” he explained. One way he does this is to give partial credit if a student gets the wrong answer but still has the right idea.

Don’t confuse that practice, however, with leniency.

He has high standards for students and for himself, noted the A&S committee that forwarded his nomination.

“I am extremely honored to be selected for the Distinguished Faculty Award for teaching,” Powers said. “The whole experience is very humbling since there are many hard-working and talented instructors at the University of Louisville.

“A positive classroom experience can only occur if both the instructor and the class are equally engaged,” he continued. “It has been my good fortune to encounter many intelligent and hard-working mathematics students. I can say that some of my students have really inspired me. It makes my job as a teacher a real joy.”

Editor’s Note: President James Ramsey will present the 2009 Distinguished Faculty Awards and the President’s Exemplary Multicultural Teaching Award April 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Celebration for Faculty Excellence. The event is open to the university community and will be in the auditorium of the Speed Art Museum, 2035 S. Third St.

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