by Annie Dubois

Zoom lectures tend to have an established routine: listen to the professor, take notes, discuss problems in a breakout room, repeat. However, for Associate Professor Teena Gerhardt’s class, a surprise “zoom bomb” from President Stanley interrupted the status quo.

While Gerhardt was focused on writing an equation, President Stanley, Provost Theresa Woodruff, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Education Mark Largent, Dean Philip Duxbury, and Department of Mathematics Chair Keith Promislow appeared amongst shocked students. Much to Gerhardt’s surprise, President Stanley awarded her with the President’s Distinguished Teaching Award–the highest instructional honor bestowed by MSU.

The President’s Distinguished Teaching Award recognizes MSU faculty that have a sustained record of creating innovative environments that enable student learning within and across disciplinary, cultural, and ethnic boundaries. Gerhardt’s student reviews certainly reaffirm that her focused, well-crafted lectures achieve this criterion.

“On an individual level Dr. Gerhardt brings incredible skill as an instructor to the classroom,” says Promislow. “She memorizes all the 200+ names of her students in her class, calling on them by name when they raise their hand on day one. Her student evaluations in MTH 124 are unlike any I have ever read–so many different handwritings conveying the same sentiment: Dr. Gerhardt’s lectures are superbly crafted, containing multiple examples that emphasize different perspectives.”

Gerhardt’s teaching methods and dedication to student learning have redeemed success for students who have previously failed MTH 124 and have since earned a 3.5/4.0 in the class. One student wrote, “She is simply amazing at showing how to do the work, she thoroughly explained things and gave multiple examples for each problem.”

This shift in student success is not only due to Gerhardt’s unique presentation of mathematics and individual connection to her students, but her revitalization of the mathematics department at MSU. From 2015-2017 Gerhardt and Associate Professor Benjamin Schmidt spearheaded the revitalization of MTH 124, applied calculus, transforming it into a lab-based class that focuses on applications of calculus to the natural sciences.

Reformatting MTH 124 to connect with intuitive, degree-centered applications proved crucial in achieving student success. According to Promislow, before the reformation, the historical dropped-failure-withdrawal (DFW) rate for the Applied Calculus was approximately 25% for fall semesters. For the rebuilt fall semester sections that Drs. Schmidt and Gerhardt led, the DFW rate was 13.5% in fall semester 2015 (500+ students) and 17.8% in fall semester 2016 (500+ students).

Dr. Gerhardt’s experience revitalizing the mathematics department at MSU reaches far beyond her work with applied calculus. Starting in fall 2017 Dr. Gerhardt expanded her gateway reform efforts alongside Teaching Specialist Jane Zimmerman with their work to transition MTH 1825 into the MTH 103A/B sequence. The duo specifically focused on reforms of MTH 103 that shift its focus from remedial college algebra towards preparation for calculus.

Once again, Gerhardt’s reformation endeavor was effective. According to Promislow, The DFW rates for MTH 103 had hovered around 28-29% and improved to 22% in the first two years of the full roll-out, and the average GPA increased from 2.45 to 2.65.

To broaden the impact of her work, Gerhardt has engaged in the two-year STEM teaching Fellow program through MSU’s Association of American Universities (AAU) STEM education initiative project. This project involves working with faculty across the university to improve Gateway STEM education. 

Gerhardt’s efforts have had major impacts on gateway education at MSU, collectively impacting over 5,000 students per year. In recognition for all of these efforts, she received the College of Natural Science’s inaugural 2019-2020 Norman and Olga Frits Excellence in Teaching Award. 

“Dr. Gerhardt is an outstanding educator, beloved by students, and a driving force for the nationally recognized improvements to MSU’s gateway curriculum for STEM education in mathematics,” said Promislow. “She is a dynamic individual whose efforts will have impact far beyond MSU…Dr. Teena Gerhardt is uniquely poised to become a major force in mathematics education at the national level.”