|Jim Cangelosi is Utah’s 2011 Carnegie Professor of the Year.|
According to Utah State University professor Jim Cangelosi, most people have fallen prey to a common ruse.
“Their experiences with textbook-driven ‘school math’ have left them with the impression mathematics is a robotic activity with either ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers,” says Cangelosi, who joined the faculty of USU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics in 1982. “‘I’m no good at math’ is a common refrain — thus, it’s a joyous challenge for me to immerse students in the culture of authentic mathematics and rock their world.”
Recognized for his dedication to students and contributions to the field of math education, Cangelosi was named a 2011 Carnegie Professor of the Year.
One of 31 professors from across the nation selected for this year’s prestigious honor, the Louisiana native’s award was announced at a Nov. 17 ceremony in Washington, D.C.
Administered by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the award recognizes outstanding professors for their influence on teaching and their extraordinary commitment to undergraduate education. Cangelosi is the 11th Utah State professor to receive the award since the program’s 1981 inception. USU has more than twice as many honorees as any other higher education institution in Utah.
“Do the math: Jim Cangelosi has voluntarily expanded his teaching load to 2.5 times the average load for his department and has employed more than 200 students on his funded projects,” says USU President Stan Albrecht. “His commitment to the success of each of his students is incredible and it’s an honor to have him on our faculty.”
USU College of Science Dean Jim MacMahon calls Cangelosi a vital spirit in the college and an accomplished educator of national repute.
“He is well liked and respected among his colleagues, but his students are among his most enthusiastic fans,” MacMahon says.
“Dr. Cangelosi has a way of blending critique with encouragement that leaves me feeling like I am capable of more than I thought possible,” says Morgan Summers ’11. “He does this, in part, by making an explicit distinction between my worth as a person and the quality and value of my work.”
Even in his classes of more than 200 students, Cangelosi makes an effort to watch for “math anxiety” among class members.
“I use a tablet laptop that allows me to circulate through the classroom, while displaying coursework on a large screen,” he says. “This allows me to overhear students’ muted expressions, read their body language and prompt otherwise quiet students to contribute to discussions. I establish a classroom climate where students feel free to experiment and make mistakes without embarrassment.”
Cangelosi’s unorthodox sense of humor helps. Each year, the professor shows up for a class, clad in a white robe and purple sash, as ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras. Directing students to sit on the floor in a circle, he describes the culture of the Pythagoreans and encourages participants to develop proofs for the Pythagorean Theorem.
“Dr. Cangelosi is an inspirational leader, a friend, a surrogate father, a paradigm and the true heart of the university’s mathematical education program,” says USU alum David Packard, now a teacher at Utah’s Thomas Edison Charter School North. “To his students, he’s the ‘Professor of a Lifetime.’”
Packard was among a group of nearly 100 students and alumni who honored the professor with a surprise appreciation party in 2004. The gathering included custom T-shirts emblazoned with “The Man, the Myth, the Legend” and an image of the professor dressed in — what else? — Pythagorean attire.
“I thought I was going to watch my son perform in a concert, but when I realized my students had gathered for a surprise party in my honor, I almost had a coronary,” Cangelosi recalls. “I was overwhelmed — very touched.”
Among the professor’s claims to fame are the multiple invitations he’s received to escort College of Science valedictorians at commencement — an honor students bestow upon a faculty member who has had the most impact on them. Cangelosi has donned a robe and escorted six valedictorians — a university record.
“Jim inspired me to become a math teacher and employ his methods in my own classroom,” says Erinn Harris ’11. “Because of this, I could see no other professor to choose as my faculty escort at graduation.”
More at home in jeans and a flannel shirt than academic regalia, Cangelosi’s unassuming presence belies a scholar nationally recognized for his research and contributions to his field.
“Jim is ‘Paul Bunyan-like’ not only in appearance but in his tireless efforts to tackle our national crisis in mathematics literacy,” says Richard Cutler, head of USU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics. “His textbook Teaching Mathematics in Secondary and Middle School: An Interactive Approach is in its third edition and he’s authored ten books on math teaching, academic assessment and classroom management.”
Beyond USU’s campus, Cangelosi, working with the Utah State Office of Education, initiated the Utah Mathematics Endorsement Project in 2007, to deliver advanced distance education courses to public secondary school mathematics teachers throughout the state.
“The UMEP program began as a federal Title IIB grant focused on providing potential mathematics teachers throughout Utah, including those in rural areas, with a way to gain endorsements to teach secondary mathematics,” says Diana Suddreth, USOE teaching and learning specialist in secondary mathematics. “Jim has become a master of using technology to enhance distance instruction. I’ve sat in on a number of his lessons and have been mesmerized by his ability to draw me and other students in as though we’re all sitting together in the same classroom.”
Suddreth adds that Cangelosi is a promoter of collaboration and networking within Utah.
“As a member of the revision committee that produced the new Utah Core Mathematics Curriculum, Jim revealed himself a thoughtful mathematician and dedicated educator as he helped us create a system that students would actually enjoy — not just tolerate,” she says.
Among all his endeavors, Cutler says, Cangelosi sees his highest calling as the education of future teachers of mathematics and statistics.
“USU offers the only undergraduate program in the world that prepares its pre-service mathematics teachers to teach statistics as well as math,” he says. “And though he’s a master at teaching, he stresses to his students that even he continually strives to refine his craft. For Jim, scholarship and teaching are not separate — his scholarship is a direct result of his classroom activity and, in turn, his scholarship enhances his teaching.”
Past USU Carnegie Professors of the Year are: Laurie McNeill, civil and environmental engineering (2010); David Peak, physics (2009); Lyle McNeal, animal science (2007); Bonnie Glass-Coffin, anthropology (2004); Jan Sojka, physics (2002); David Lancy, anthropology (2001); Mark Damen, history (1998); Sonia Manuel-Dupont, English (1997); Ted Alsop, geography and earth resources(1996); and Frances Titchener, history (1995).
Read more about USU’s Carnegie Professors of the Year online.