HMC Professor Receives Haimo Award for Math Instruction

Harvey Mudd College mathematics professor Francis Su is one of the three recipients of the 2013 Haimo Award, the Mathematical Association of America’s highest teaching honor. 

Su joins a list of Haimo Award recipients that includes several professors from the Claremont Colleges, including Pomona College professor Erica Flapan, Pitzer College professor Judy Grabiner and HMC professor Arthur Benjamin. 

The Haimo Award was established by the MAA “in order to honor college or university teachers who have been widely recognized as extraordinarily successful and whose teaching effectiveness has been shown to have had influence beyond their own institutions,” according to the organization’s website. 

“I felt honored to get this award,” Su said. “There are a lot of great teachers out there, and the list of award winners is impressive.”

He added, “I certainly feel humbled, because it’s a significant award, and I am grateful to the many people who have helped shape my teaching: former professors, colleagues and my bright, dedicated students.”

Su teaches many math courses at HMC, including core curriculum classes and upper division courses like real analysis, multivariable calculus, abstract algebra and algebraic topology. His favorite course to teach is real analysis, “where people joke you prove one plus one equals two,” he said. 

Cori McElwain HM ’13, a joint math and computer science major, praised Su for his clarity and enthusiasm. 

“During my time in Math Analysis with him, he was constantly looking to innovate and change the teaching process to help students better understand the material,” McElwain said. “He recorded his lectures for our future use and posted notes online that corresponded directly with the lecture and were searchable by keywords, so we always had the chance to go back and refresh ourselves on any concept.” 

Su starts off his classes with “math fun facts” to show his students that math is “fun and cool and exciting,” he said. He started a website for his math fun facts in 1997 and worked with a student to develop and code an app a few years ago. 

Su is active in research and works closely with student researchers. While at HMC, he has published 12 papers with undergraduates. His research interests include geometric combinatorics, and some of his work applies mathematical principles to problems in the social sciences, such as voting and redistricting.

He is also involved in outreach with younger students. Over the summer, he teaches for Math Path, a summer math camp for middle school students.

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