ROTA recipient Huber helps students find true meaning of math

Dr. Timothy Huber, UTRGV associate professor in the UTRGV School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, and 2016 recipient of the UT System Outstanding Teaching Award. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

By Melissa Vasquez

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – AUG. 18, 2016 – Dr. Timothy Huber truly finds the joy in mathematics. It is a passion he shares with his students, who often end up loving a subject that once caused fear and anxiety.

His patience, and a keen ability to personalize material and help students discover the true meaning of math, earned him The UT System Board of Regents’ 2016 Outstanding Teaching Award.

An associate professor in the UTRGV School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, Huber was among five university faculty members – and among 60 faculty in the UT System’s academic and health institutions – to earn one of the highest and most prestigious awards in the nation that recognizes teaching excellence.

Huber, who earned the honor in the tenure category, really does love mathematics. It is obvious when you walk into his office and see his green chalkboard filled with math equations, to the square root wall clock hanging behind his desk.

He is known to have an open door policy with students, which the majority take advantage of and appreciate fully.

“They (students) are here a lot,” he said. “In fact, we need benches installed in our hallways because sometimes they can be found sitting on the floor.”

There have been times when Huber has had to hold office hours in a classroom to accommodate the groups of students who show up all at once to pick his brain and ask for help. His list of undergraduate and graduate courses includes the History of Mathematics, College Algebra, Analytic Number Theory, Business Calculus, to name a few.

“Sometimes, the entire classroom will come and, of course 30 people don’t fit in my office,” Huber said.

One student who appreciates Huber’s availability is Nathaniel P. Mayes, a mathematics senior with a concentration in pure mathematics.

“I have spent quite a bit of time sitting in Dr. Huber’s office, asking him questions,” Mayes wrote in a letter nominating Huber to the UT System Board of Regents for the Regents’ award. “For instance, when I was taking classes with Dr. Huber I would go to his office and run through all my ideas for tackling some of the difficult proofs in Real Analysis I and Analytic Number Theory.”

Mayes said Huber guides him through the parts that always stump him, and then spends time suggesting methods to solve the problems, or just listening to his ideas on how to solve the issue.

“Many students go into difficult advanced mathematics courses and get lost with no one to help them along the way,” Mayes said. “With Dr. Huber, I feel assured that all my questions about the subject will be answered and explained to me in detail at the utmost professional level.”

Being there for his students is important to Huber, who says he had some great mentors who put him on the right path to finding the meaning in math.

“I struggled with mathematics, in particular, but I found that most of the trouble I had was rooted in a simple misunderstanding of language or ideas,” Huber said. “As soon as I had the patience and a discerning mentor to point me in the right direction, I saw the connections unfold and I really began to enjoy mathematics.”

Through various platforms in and out of the classroom, Huber helps his students succeed, whether it’s through his innovative online and hybrid courses, or the National Science Foundation-funded five-year combined master’s and bachelor’s degree program in mathematics, which he leads. The program provides financial and academic support to 22 students, and there currently are a few available slots for interested students.

Working with undergraduates on research is one of his highest priorities. He has a growing list of undergraduates with whom he is working on problems in number theory. He has also co-authored four papers with six students in high-level peer-reviewed journals. 

“I see my students create math. Their ideas help me extend my research,” he said.

For the coming year, he plans to apply for more grants to fund research and help students further their math education. He plans to seek out internships and job placement opportunities by partnering with corporations and government agencies.

“I want to make it easier for graduating UTRGV students to find jobs,” he said.

In an effort to provide more graduate opportunities for UTRGV students, Huber, the graduate program director for the Department of Mathematics, is currently collaborating with a committee to apply for a Ph.D. in Mathematics with a focus on interdisciplinary mathematics.

For Huber, math is about uncovering something that is unique and fundamental.

“It’s not a theory, it’s ultimate truth. It’s fact, and I try to share that with my students,” he said.

So, how does Huber get his students to love a topic as intimidating as math can be? 

“I look for those who already enjoy it and cultivate an appreciation for math in those that do not. Sometimes, I find students who are really good at it. Some of them don’t even know it, and some of them haven’t been good at it in other math classes. They often realize that math is not really difficult,” he said.

Huber says the best part of his work is seeing students go from a developmental math course to working on a doctorate. Before wanting to become a mathematician, Huber, who grew up in an economically depressed region of the Appalachian Mountains in western North Carolina, dreamed of a career in journalism. In high school, he was on the non-college track and describes himself as misguided. “I was the one who smoked cigarettes behind the high school,” he said.

“When I see someone submit journal articles who started their academic career with poor grades and no interest, I’m amazed, because I’ve faced the same challenges,” he said. “That is what I’m most proud of – when I see a little bit of my own story in my students.”

Daniela Cardoza, currently a graduate student working on a Ph.D. in Educational Measurement and Statistics at the University of Iowa, said she met Huber, whom she considers her mentor and advocate, when she was an undergraduate taking his Modern Algebra course. 

He helped her obtain an internship at the National Science Foundation as part of the Quality Education for Minorities Program, and that pushed her to further her education goals. Cardoza most appreciated how Huber treated his students – “as colleagues pursuing the shared goal of understanding the subject,” she said.

“Dr. Huber has helped me throughout my educational career by opening many doors for me. It was because of him that I learned of the University of Iowa’s Educational Measurement Statistics program, and it’s because of his example that I am now on track to obtaining a Ph.D.,” Cardoza said.

MEDIA CONTACTS
Melissa.Vasquez@UTRGV.edu
Senior Writer / 956-665-8926

Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu
UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications / 956-665-2742