Quest math prof wins North American award

Glen van Brummelen says he’s ‘a bit stunned’ to be chosen

Quest University math professor has received a prestigious North American teaching award.

Glen van Brummelen is the second Canadian ever to be chosen for the Haimo Award given by the Mathematical Association of America.

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“I was a bit stunned, actually,” Van Brummelen said of his reaction to winning. “I’ve made a career over being a bit of a rogue – breaking conventions, experimenting and so forth.”

Van Brummelen has used storytelling to teach math, using history and real people in his math problems, and he tries to help students gain confidence “that they can do math too – not just have it inflicted upon them.”

“My teaching style is extremely enthusiastic; the joy I feel for beautiful mathematics pours out of me every minute,” he said.

The association chose him for the award also because of his contributions outside the classroom. As one of the founding professors of Quest, Van Brummelen helped build an innovative school, and he has also been involved in Canadian and U.S. math organizations. He said he considers himself “a public missionary for the sheer beauty of a subject most people look at with dread.”

The association was effusive in its praise for Van Brummelen’s approach.

“Professor Van Brummelen is a leader in mathematics education,” reads the award citation, and it notes that his colleagues say he is able to motivate his students and mentor other faculty to do the same.

His students gave him perfect marks.

“Notably, Professor Van Brummelen received the highest teaching evaluation scores of all faculty at a university ranked number one in North America in the National Survey of Student Engagement. Of course, perfect scores by every student are impossible for another faculty member to beat… and perfect scores are precisely what he managed to achieve.”

The Squamish resident has published two books, The Mathematics of the Heavens and The Earth and Heavenly Mathematics, and given prominent lectures and speeches about mathematics, including one at a U.S. math convention in San Francisco.

Van Brummelen’s teaching style has evolved over time.

“About four or five years into my teaching career, I suddenly realized I didn’t have to be Mr. Formal in front of the room – that I could show how I felt about what I was teaching. Breaking that social barrier brought me a lot closer to my students…. I often say, ‘I don’t teach math; I teach students.’”

The award is a validation for his approach and will likely provide the Quest professor with opportunities to spread his enthusiasm about math with a wider North American audience – “to demystify it for a lot of people.”

Van Brummelen is currently working on a scholarly book about trigonometry and hopes in the future to write a book for anyone who has ever been confused by school math. 

He’s also working on new courses. This week, he started co-teaching with a literature professor a new course on Euclid, a mathematician of Ancient Greece.

Van Brummelen will receive the Haimo Award in Seattle on Jan. 7, a date that already has special meaning for him; it was the birthday of his late father, who was a professor at Trinity Western University. 

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