Louise Hay Award

2005 Winner: Susanna S. Epp


In recognition of her exemplary and broad range of contributions to mathematics education, the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) presents the Fifteenth Annual Louise Hay Award to Susanna S. Epp of the Department of Mathematical Sciences at DePaul University.

Dr. Epp’s career began when she eamed her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago under the direction of Irving Kaplansky in 1968. She taught briefly at Boston University and the University of Illinois at Chicago and then joined the faculty of DePaul University. In 2004, she was named a Vincent de Paul Professor, one of the first group of professors so honored.

After initial research in commutative algebra, Professor Epp became interested in cognitive issues associated with teaching analytical thinking and proof For the past twenty-five years, she has committed herself to helping students come to understand the unspoken logic and language that underlie mathematical thought. This theme runs throughout her well-known and very popular textbook, Discrete Mathematics with Applications, about which students write her glowing emails from such far flung countries as Japan, England, Sweden, and Australia. For instance, one computer science student wrote, “I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate you on your fantastic book…. I believe that this is the best-written textbook I have ever seen.” Conveying the nature of mathematical reasoning is also a primary theme of the book Precalculus and Discrete Mathematics, which she co-authored as part of the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) Secondary Series (edited by Zalman Usiskin).

Epp has also raised awareness of issues in the teaching of logic and proof through a series of articles in the American Mathematical Monthly, the Mathematics Teacher, the NCTM Yearbook Developing Mathematical Reasoning in Grades K-12. the DIMACS volume Discrete Mathematics in the Schools (edited by Joseph G. Rosenstein, Deborah S. Franzblau, and Fred S. Roberts), and the volume Mathematical Thinking and Problem Solving (edited by Alan H. Schoenfeld).

From 1999 to 2004, Professor Epp worked as a member of the writing group that produced the Mathematical Association of America publication Undergraduate Programs and Courses in the Mathematical Sciences: CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004. The Guide urges mathematics departments to tailor courses and programs to meet their students’ real needs; help all students develop analytical, critical reasoning, problem-solving, and communication skills; convey the breadth and interconnections of the mathematical sciences; and promote interdisciplinary cooperation. Recently, Epp was named co-editor of CUPM-IR, the online Illustrative Resources that accompany the Guide.

Epp has given many colloquium lectures, talks for students, and talks at national MAA meetings. She has organized and moderated panels, workshops, and MAA sessions. She has served as a reviewer for textbooks and NSF proposals and as a consultant for Educational Testing Service and the College Board. She has judged high school mathematics contests and served on school advisory boards. In 1996, she jointly organized an international symposium on teaching logic and reasoning held at Rutgers University. In 2004 she spoke at the 10th Intemational Congress on Mathematics Education and was one of eight mathematicians invited to participate in the Research for Better Schools Project to help develop the TIMMS videos for use in teacher education.

For Project NExT Epp has been both a speaker and mentor. Emily Hynds of Samford University, a Project NExT fellow, used Epp’s discrete mathematics book as an undergraduate and became acquainted with her at a Project NExT presentation. Hynds wrote: “I have been most touched by her abilities as a teacher and communicator … she is both a scholar and a nurturer.

At DePaul University, Epp developed more than a dozen successful courses, including two in discrete mathematics and one in mathematical reasoning. Perhaps her most innovative course is “Mathematical Pedagogy: Theory and Practice.” As part of that course, each student works as a tutor-an extremely valuable experience for undergraduate majors. In all of her courses, she encourages students to pursue teaching as a career and over the years she has inspired many to become teachers.

When serving as chair of the Department of Mathematical Sciences, she developed a joint computer science-mathematics major and a “pure mathematics” concentration, and she did much to promote upper-level mathematics courses to a broader audience. Her colleague, Jeanne LaDuke wrote, “This fall there are about thirty students enrolled in our first quarter abstract algebra course as compared to fewer than a dozen just a few years ago.” She also introduced a new calculus course sequence to enable students lacking precalculus skills to complete the one-year sequence during a one-year period by incorporating precalculus material along the way. Michael L. Mezey, professor and dean at DePaul, wrote that she is a faculty leader who “invariably takes a leadership role because she always comes prepared to meetings, has thought carefully about the issues, and has the ability to find common ground among people of differing views.”

Epp served as an Associate Editor of the Mathematics Magazine and as a referee for numerous journals. She also served on many MAA Committees, including the Committee on the Evaluation of Teaching, the Committee on Curricular Renewal Across the Firat Two Years, the Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics (CUPM), and the President’s Task Force on the NCTM Standards. Of her work on the Task Force, former MAA President Kenneth A. Ross wrote, “… if I had to identify the most valuable members [of that Task Force] Susanna would be on any short list.”

For her selfless contributions to mathematics education, her role as a mentor, her scholarship, her administrative skills, her human qualities of kindness, absolute honesty and trustworthiness, and her willingness to listen, the Association for Women in Mathematics is pleased to designate Susanna S. Epp as the Fifteenth Annual Louise Hay Awardee. She most fittingly evokes the memory of all that fellow Chicagoan Louise Hay exemplified as a teacher, scholar, administrator, and human being.

Response from Susanna S. Epp:

I am honored to have been chosen to receive the Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education from the Association for Women in Mathematics. I became acquainted with Louise during the time my husband was her colleague at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and I remember her as a person of great intelligence and a warm and vibrant personality.

I grew up as a “faculty brat.” Both my parents were English teachers, my father at Northwestern University and my mother (typical of the times) at a local junior college. After receiving my doctorate, I expected to continue a career as a research mathematician. However, my plans slowly changed when, a few years after joining the faculty of DePaul University, I became concerned about the difficulties students were having in our post-calculus courses and became involved in creating a course for our majors to serve as a “bridge” to more sophisticated mathematical thinking.

Working with the students in the course in an intensely interactive way was, perhaps, the most profound educational experience of my life. The attempt to address the difficulties they were having actually led me to deepen my own understanding of and appreciation for the role of logic and language in mathematical thought. And trying to figure out concrete ways to help them develop their understanding turned out to be much more of an intellectual challenge than I had anticipated. When explanations are too complex, students capable of comprehending them don’t need a special course, but when they are not sufficiently detailed, students aren’t able to act on them. I am still working to try to find the best balance, and I continue to be grateful to my students for the stimulation they have provided me and for all that I have learned from them.

My involvement with the course led me to explore new and fascinating territory-mathematical logic, cognitive psychology, and mathematics education research. In addition, a talk I gave about the course in an MAA session organized by Anthony Ralston proved to be the gateway to participation in the larger community of mathematicians with a special interest in mathematics education. By giving the talk I became acquainted with him and with Martha Siegel and the excellent work they did to involve the MAA in the effort to determine what a course in discrete mathematics should look like, and I was invited to participate in the Tulane Conference on calculus reform and to join my first MA.A committee. My life has been greatly enriched ever since by the many thoughtful and dedicated people I have had an opportunity to work with through national organizations, most especially the MAA.

The older I get the more I realize the debt I owe my own teachers. In this connection, I should start by mentioning my parents, whose keen interest and careful attention to language and whose evident commitment to good teaching surely shaped my own sensibility. My eyes were first opened to the view that mathematics is a subject with ideas as well as formulas and techniques by my husband, Helmut, who on a high school date (!) introduced me to the power and beauty of the field axioms. As a student at Northwestern and the University of Chicago, I benefited from uniformly high quality mathematics instruction. Although I can’t list all the fine teachers I had, I would particularly mention Izaak Wirszup, Daniel Zelinsky, Ralph Boas, Ky Fan, Arunas Liulevicius, Antony Zygmund, I. N. Herstein, and Irving Kaplansky, all of whom, in their own ways, helped lead me to appreciate the elegance, rigor, and excitement of mathematics. I hope that I have been able to pass on some of this appreciation to my own students.