Pomona College mathematics professor Shahriar Shahriari has won the 2015 Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished Teaching of Mathematics, which was presented Jan. 11 at the annual Joint Mathematics Meetings by the Mathematical Association of America.
Shahriari has worked as a professor for 25 years at Pomona, during which he was an associate dean of the college from 2000 to 2003 and a chair of the mathematics department from 2004 to 2007. He has won numerous awards, including the Wig Distinguished Professor Award for Excellence in Teaching a total of four times.
“Professor Shahriari has empowered the [students] with the tools and self-confidence to succeed in math, at Pomona, and beyond,” wrote Jo Hardin, chair of the mathematics department and a professor of mathematics, in an email to TSL. “We are absolutely delighted, though hardly surprised, to see him recognized and celebrated at the national level.”
Shahriari’s recognition is partially attributed to the classroom environment he creates as a professor. Jason Twohy PO ’18 expressed his appreciation for Shahriari’s teaching style.
“Unlike many teachers, he doesn’t dump all the information on the students’ plates and leave them to go through it,” Twohy said. “He is very good at seeing the material from the students’ perspective and being able to explain the logic.”
Shahriari said that he “expects a lot from students,” and is glad to see them rise to the challenge of learning independently.
“I try to get students to do [a] fair amount of work on their own,” Shahriari said. “That’s what makes it hard, but also it seems like it works because the students become interested in learning, rather than just being taught how to do them.”
Paula Burkhardt PO ’16, a mathematics major who has taken three classes with Shahriari, wrote in an email to TSL that even though his classes might “take over your life … the material is really interesting.”
“I’ve also mentored linear algebra for him and I’ve noticed that he pays a lot of attention to how the students learn the material when they’re not in lecture – he sets up a lot of learning communities and the homeworks are structured so that the students teach themselves how to do things before they’re covered in lecture,” Burkhardt wrote.
Shahriari not only devotes his time to engaging and challenging his students in the classroom, but also works to improve access to mathematics for underserved students.
He has been involved in the Pomona College Academy for Youth Success, formerly known as the Summer Scholars Enrichment Program (SSEP), which prepares local high school students for quality education in mathematics and other subjects. In addition to writing a grant for the SSEP 11 years ago, Shahriari co-designed and taught the curriculum for the program. He also served as the first mentor for Pomona’s chapter of the Posse Foundation, which aims to reach out to students of nontraditional backgrounds often overlooked by colleges.
Shahriari’s main concern in the field of mathematics is accessibility. He said that the demographics of people who study math do not reflect the demographics of society, and many socioeconomic groups are underrepresented in the field of mathematics.
“We have made progress, but we are very far from where we want it to be,” Shahriari said. “I want to make every student feel comfortable and successful in the field of mathematics.”