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Award offers math whiz semester of Bear status

Jan. 21, 2010

Dr. Edward Burger, recent winner of Cherry award, will teach at BU

Jed Dean | Photo Editor
Dr. Edward Burger, recipient of the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, lectures on Oct. 26 in the Baylor Sciences Building. Each of the three finalists spoke at Baylor during the fall semester before Burger was announced the 2010 winner.

By Sara Tirrito
Staff Writer

Dr. Edward Burger, Williams College professor of mathematics and Gaudino Scholar, has been chosen as the recipient of the 2010 Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching.

"The Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching committee was very pleased with the strength of the applications for the 2010 award," Dr. Heidi Hornik-Parsons, professor of art history and chair of the Cherry Award Committee, stated in a press release. "All three finalists had successful visits and lectures on campus last fall. Dr. Burger demonstrated that he was not only a leading educator in his field, but that he has truly committed his life to the effective teaching of mathematics."

The Cherry Award, first presented in 1991, is now awarded every two years. Three finalists give a series of lectures at Baylor and receive $15,000. Their home departments receive an additional $10,000 to help develop teaching skills. The winner comes to Baylor to teach for a semester, receives $200,000, and an additional $25,000 for his home department. Burger has been teaching at Williams College since 1990 and will be coming to Baylor to teach in the fall.

Burger said the most attractive part of the award is the chance to be part of the Baylor community.

"Baylor is a phenomenal, wonderful university, so first and foremost was the opportunity to join the Baylor community for a semester and become a bear," Burger said. "I want to become a bear. As a graduate student I was a longhorn, and a bear is much more regal than a longhorn. And now I'm a purple cow--that's the mascot. And certainly a bear is more scary than a purple cow."

Burger added that his dream would be to meet the entire Baylor community.

"Hands down the thing I'm really excited about is getting to meet and getting to know as many students, faculty and staff from the Baylor community as possible. My fantasy would be to literally meet everybody," Burger said. "It is not only joyful to meet such thoughtful, smart and interesting people, but it is a wonderful learning opportunity for me. What I hope is that the Baylor community will teach me all sorts of lessons that are valuable to me."

As someone who was not always interested in math, Burger believes his childhood struggles with math helped him sympathize with students' difficulties.

"When I was in elementary school, I wasn't strong at all in math," Burger said. "I always keep in mind my struggle with trying to learn mathematics and try to be sensitive to that struggle so that I can better work with wonderful students."

Burger said he tries to teach math in a way that allows students to incorporate it into other facets of their lives.

"What I try to do is to do a couple things. Number one is to try to as clearly and as effectively as possible share the complex and abstract world of mathematics with my students," Burger said. "The second thing is to try to offer that journey in the most intriguing and enticing and joyful way possible, so they see these ideas as human ideas. The last thing I try to do is to offer life lessons, methods of thinking that actually transcend the math and can infuse my students' thinking about everything."

Dr. Lance Littlejohn, chair of the mathematics department, said he is certain that all students, whether math majors or not, could benefit from taking one of Burger's classes. Burger will be teaching a section of Ideas in Math and a section of Number Theory.

"Ed Burger is a teaching phenomenon, as Baylor students and faculty all observed last October when he participated in the Cherry Award Competition," Littlejohn said. "As chair of the department, I want to maximize Ed in the classroom and have him engage both math majors and non-math majors alike. I can guarantee that Ed Burger will have a positive and profound effect on any Baylor student who signs up for one of his classes."

Associate mathematics professor Dr. Ronald Stanke said that Burger will be a good addition to the mathematics department.

"Having earned a reputation both as an excellent mathematician and an outstanding classroom teacher, Professor Burger will certainly make many positive contributions to the teaching of mathematics here at Baylor," Stanke said. "It's safe to say that Professor Burger will be bringing another dimension to mathematics teaching and I'm very happy that our Baylor students have the opportunity to learn mathematics from such a talented teacher."

Burger said his Ideas in Math course would not be about solving equations, graphing or solving for 'x.'

"It's about really intriguing, amazing, wonderful ideas of mathematics, including things like randomness, inquisitiveness, infinity.If you can understand infinity, what can't you do?" he said. "We'll be looking for the aesthetics, we'll be looking for beauty and we'll be looking for wonder."