Ravenel is named to Fayerweather chair


D ouglas Ravenel, a mathematician who has helped develop ways to boost student interest in math at the University, has been named the Daniel Burton Fayerweather Professor of Mathematics. The Fayerweather honor is named for a wealthy New York City leather merchant who left bequests to the University and several other educational institutions when he died in 1890.

During the three years that Ravenel has chaired the department, it has gained a national reputation for its innovative teaching. Four years ago its faculty members launched a new way to use the Web to customize homework assignments and give students immediate feedback. The software package, known as WeBWorK, now is used by math teachers at several other universities.

Another innovation has been workshops where students work together in teams, helping each other learn the material and boosting student involvement. As a result, the department received the Goergen Award for Curricular Achievement in Undergraduate Education last year, and mathematicians have won Goergen outstanding teaching awards in each of the last three years. Even more telling, the number of students taking calculus is growing even as the size of the overall student body is decreasing, and more students are majoring in the subject and taking on honors calculus.

"Dr. Ravenel is a widely respected mathematician and a very effective teacher who has been generous in his service to the University," said Thomas LeBlanc, the newly named Robert L. and Mary L. Sproull Dean of the College Faculty. "Under his leadership, the department's teaching and the involvement of faculty in undergraduate education have improved dramatically."

Helping students overcome their fear of math is a high priority for Ravenel. "A lot of people think of studying math like eating their vegetables: They know it's good for them, but they really don't want to do it," he said. "A good math teacher works at overcoming that aversion. Every mathematician has an inherent enthusiasm for the subject, and mathematicians like to convey that to other people. We try to be as hospitable as possible for students who plan to major in math, or for others who simply take calculus because they need it for another major."

Ravenel attended Oberlin College, graduating in three years and receiving a bachelor's degree with highest honors in math. He then earned his master's degree and doctorate in math from Brandeis University. He was on the faculty at Columbia University and the University of Washington before joining Rochester in 1988.

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