Glen van Brummelen, Quest’s math tutor, receives the Haimo Award

Quest’s Mathematics tutor Glen van Brummelen has been awarded the Haimo award. This award is the most prestigious teaching award for mathematics in North America (so this is big, and awesome! Go Glen!).  The official name of the award is Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award and it is given out annually by the Mathematical Association of America to honor college and university teachers who stand out for their teaching effectiveness and who have influence beyond their own institutions.

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Glen is one of the founding faculty members at Quest, specializing in the history of mathematics, including trigonometry and astronomy in ancient Greece and medieval Islam. Throughout his career Glen has written 30 scholarly articles and 15 encyclopedia articles. Some of his works include: The Mathematics of the Heavens and the Earth: The Early History of Trigonometry, and Heavenly Mathematics: The Forgotten Art of Spherical Trigonometry. Besides working at Quest, he was also the president of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics (2012-14) and the governor for Canadian members of the Mathematical Association of America (2013-16).

We asked Glen a few Questions about his career at Quest and the Haimo award:

Q: The Haimo Award states that recipients exert an influence that goes beyond their institutions. How do you think you have done that?

A: Quest, and Bennington College before, are institutions that give us the opportunity to experiment — to break the rules of convention, and try new approaches that might make a difference. Our model of mathematics at Quest, with its innovative foundation courses, is being observed (and, I think, envied) by a lot of institutions around North America for its creativeness and ability to really get across how mathematicians think. My book “Heavenly Mathematics” comes directly from my foundation spherical trigonometry course. I’ve played governance roles as president of the Canadian Society for History and Philosophy of Mathematics, and as a governor of the Mathematical Association of America. These positions have allowed me to spread a Questy spirit to the North American mathematics community. Both of my books (“Heavenly Mathematics” and “The Mathematics of the Heavens and the Earth”) embody my historical storytelling inclination (see point 2), and I’m grateful that they have reached quite a few people.

Photo Credit: Squamish Chief

Q: What is your pedagogical approach in the classroom? How does it differ from other professors?

A: Firstly, I don’t hide my enthusiasm. Mathematics is amazing. It’s powerful. It changes the world. But mostly, it’s beautiful. The mathematical world is full of surprising connections, elegant patterns, and unexpected symmetries. Secondly, I try to find narratives for my courses and classes that are human, intuitive, and accessible. History is a great source for that. Too often, math is seen as an alien edifice inflicted upon the student, rather than a playful activity. I’d rather set a tone of exploration and wonder.

Q: Does your background on the history of math shape/affect your classroom? If so, how?

A: I got into the history of math in grad school because, after an intense undergraduate program. I knew tons of math, and didn’t really have a clue what it was for, or who would care about it. History gave me the answers I sought, to return the big questions of “why” to the mathematical experience. I try to make sure my students don’t experience the same frustration I felt. Telling stories from history makes it obvious why people have cared about the topic we’re studying. It helps to cement the memory; we remember stories so much better than algorithms. Finally, it helps to put students in a place where they can imagine genuinely participating, not just going through the motions shown by the teacher on the whiteboard.

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Q: How and why did you decide to become one of the founding faculty members at Quest?

A: I was already “living the dream” of alternative undergraduate education at Bennington College. But I am Canadian, and when I had a chance to help bring that vision to my home and native land, it was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up. To inspire new pedagogical directions, starting from scratch is often the path that has the most freedom. How many times in a career do you have the opportunity to help build a new university with something interesting and important to say? I wasn’t going to pass that up.


For further information about the Haimo award access:

Also, check out a report on Glen’s award by our local newspaper:

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