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2009 Mrs. A.B. "Dolly" Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching: H. Scott Dumas

Scott Dumas brings careful attention to his efforts in teaching mathematical concepts to his students. The result has been widespread praise for his teaching approach, even from students who are less than comfortable when they see math courses on their class schedule.

Date: 5/21/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825
Photos By: Lisa Ventre

UC ingot   The numbers don’t lie when it comes to UC Professor of Mathematics H. Scott Dumas, and neither do the words from admirers that testify to his gifts as a teacher.

Dumas, a winner this year of the Mrs. A.B. “Dolly” Cohen Award for Excellence in Teaching, is considered by his students to have a gift for conveying concepts in mathematics.

“Professor Scott Dumas is one of the University of Cincinnati’s finest teachers,” praises Timothy Hodges, department head in UC’s Department of Mathematical Sciences. “He has taught an enormous range of classes, from introductory calculus classes to advanced research seminars. At all levels, his students have expressed their appreciation for his sincere concern for them as individual students, his ability to convey complex mathematical concepts and his love of mathematics.”
Scott Dumas
Scott Dumas

The numbers back up this praise of Dumas’ abilities.

In student evaluations over the last three years, Dumas has rated an overall 4.70 average on a scale of 5, compared to a departmental average of 4.11. His students rave about his ability to explain complex material in ways that make sense in the classroom, as well as his personal dedication to helping them outside of class.

Perusing the comments on the anonymous end-of-quarter class evaluations from Dumas’ classes gives perspective on why students appreciate him.

  • “We love Scott Dumas. He cares whether we learn. He loves math so much, he makes it interesting,” said a student in a Calculus for Business course.

  • “Professor Dumas is the best professor I have had! I regret not being able to take his class next quarter. I recommend him to anyone interested in learning,” said a student who had taken Calculus III from him. Another student from the same class added: “He is deserving of an award for teaching, as far as I’m concerned. He is great at giving personal attention to his students who ask for it!”

  • A Calculus I student was succinct, and funny in his honesty: “This was the best math course I’ve ever had. I actually get it.”

  • After taking a class in Differential Equations from Dumas, this student raved, “Professor Dumas is quite possibly the best professor I have ever had in college. He makes the topic of Differential Equations extremely interesting by relating what we are doing to actual physical situations. It is so nice to see how the math we are doing relates to the physical world.”

  • Graduate students love Dumas’ approach, as well. Said one who had Dumas for Analytical Methods I: “Excellent teaching. Best math professor I have ever learned from. Very knowledgeable.”

  • “Fantastic instructor – extremely well-prepared, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the subject. Lectures were captivating,” offered a student from a Ordinary Differential Equations and Dynamical Systems II course.

Dumas himself says when he began teaching at UC in 1990, he had little idea that he would be so at home in the classroom. In fact, he was worried about burning out.

“But it has never gotten boring,” he says. “The challenge of thinking about how to best teach concepts has never waned. I like the challenge of thinking: ‘How do I get this across?’ ”

Dumas has shown his versatility in handling so many different subject areas. One gift he seems to have, in particular, is an ability to make math conceptually relevant to non-math majors.

UC’s Carl H. Lindner Honors-PLUS program, which includes some of the brightest students in the UC College of Business, always asks for Dumas to be assigned to teaching the math component of their curriculum. Similar requests come from the College of Engineering.

“I have seen the results of Scott’s teaching, talked with countless students who have taken his classes and believe he is one of the best math teachers UC has to offer,” says Jeri Ricketts, the director of the Honors-PLUS program. “In fact, he’s one of the best teachers, period, that UC has, because Scott doesn’t just deliver material, he truly cares about whether students learn.”
Scott Dumas

Honors-PLUS student John Lame Jr. recalls the diligence of Dumas’ approach. “Professor Dumas would not move on to a new concept until he was certain that each student understood what he was teaching. I feel that it can be easy for teachers at this level to unintentionally leave students behind. This never happened in Professor Dumas’ class, because his students felt comfortable enough to admit when they were having a problem or needed something clarified.

“As a student in his class, it was obvious that Professor Dumas was passionate about his work, and truly cared about his students. That alone is something that puts him head and shoulders above the rest.”

Dumas says he makes an effort to understand what students like the Honors-PLUS individuals really want out of a math experience.

“When I’ve dealt with these students, they really are very bright. They could be engineers or mathematicians,” he says. “But that’s not what they want – they want math as a tool, as something they can use in their field. I think we’ve come to an understanding about that.”

Mary Schuster is now a field service instructor in UC’s Mathematics Department who had Dumas for two graduate courses when she was a student.

“I know research is an important part of Professor Dumas’ work at UC,” she says. “But I also know that he still takes the time to establish a classroom setting that will best prepare his students. One of his greatest strengths as a teacher is that he is able to have two-way discussions with students, allowing their individual learning natures to be addressed. I believe Dr. Dumas truly wants his students to experience a successful environment while enrolled in his course, as well as to take away an understanding that can be applied in further study.”

“Teaching is a place where I can spread my wings a little bit,” Dumas says. “At first, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it, but when I first began teaching, people would say to me, ‘Hey, you know, you have a knack for doing this.’ ”

They haven’t stopped saying it, as Dumas’ list of experiences and topics taught continues to grow.

“People have told me at times that I spend too much time on teaching,” he says. “But in this situation at UC, with a big, bustling university, how do you spend any less? Many students need a lot of help with math. So I try and push a little beyond what I might be able to just do as an instructor. Science and math are subjects like that, where students have to grapple with it on their own terms, and you need to keep that in mind.”