Chad Awtrey honored as one of the top mathematics educators in the country

Awtrey, an associate professor of mathematics at Elon, received the Henry L. Alder Award from the Mathematics Association of America at its national MathFest conference. 


Associate Professor Chad Awtrey has been recognized for excellence in mathematics teaching by the Mathematics Association of America as the recipient of the association’s Henry L. Alder Award.

Awtrey was one of three to receive the award on Aug. 3 at the MAA’s national MathFest conference in Denver, Colorado. Along with recognizing teaching excellence in undergraduate education, the award honors those who excel in developing education materials used in the classroom.

“The MAA is pleased to honor the work of these top educators,” said Michael Pearson, executive director of the MAA. “Their work exemplifies MAA’s values and through the open exchange of ideas on teaching and learning, helps support our mission to advance the understanding of mathematics and its impact on our world.”

In recognizing Awtrey, the MAA noted his passion as a proponent of engaged learning, particularly in the area of undergraduate research. Since arriving at Elon in 2010, Awtrey has mentored 37 undergraduates and seven high school students on 33 research projects, with those students going on to make national and regional presentations as well as to co-author research papers with Awtrey.

The MAA pointed out that his students “describe him as someone who has inspired them to lead lives of high mathematical impact” through his “enthusiasm and effective teaching style.”

The Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning College or University Mathematics Faculty Member was established in 2003 to honor beginning college or university faculty whose teaching has been extraordinarily successful and whose effectiveness in teaching undergraduate mathematics is shown to have influence beyond their own classrooms. Each year up to three college or university teachers are honored with this national award and receive $1,000 and a certificate of recognition from the MAA.

“I am honored to receive the Alder Award and thankful for all at MAA who help make these recognitions possible,” Awtrey said. “My teachers, colleagues and students have had a profound impact on me during my academic career. My colleagues’ deep devotion to active and engaged learning is remarkable, and the child-like willingness of my students to research esoteric topics is, at times, baffling, but always invigorating.”

Awtrey joined fellow 2018 Alder Award recipients David Clark of Grand Valley State University and Mohamed Omar of Harvey Mudd College on Aug. 3 during a session at MathFest in which each offered a presentation of their work.

Awtrey presented on “Mathematics By Design”, where he encouraged the audience to “backward design” all aspects of their personal and professional lives. The implementation of backward design involves first articulating goals and measures of achievement, before any actions are taken, and then working back from there.  In his presentation, Awtrey gave motivation for using backward design along with many concrete applications, such as designing lesson plans, courses or even entire majors and programs of study.

Awtrey also demonstrated how backward design can help increase a person’s effectiveness at writing research papers and grant proposals, balancing personal and professional aspects of life, and even managing resources such as time and finances.

Awtrey has previously been honored for his work as a teacher, mentor and researcher. In 2014, he received the Early Career Mentoring Award from the Division of Mathematics and Computer Science within the Council on Undergraduate Research. Awtrey currently serves as the associate director of undergraduate research at Elon.

Each of the last two years, he has received a grant from the MAA’s Dolciani Mathematics Enrichment Grant Program for his work with students in the Williams High School Mathematics Club in Burlington, N.C.

And this spring, Awtrey was selected to head a summer undergraduate research program for the National Security Agency, with nine students selected from a national pool working with Awtrey and participating in Elon’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience this summer.