Faculty Awards 2021: Deborah Keefe

UC adjunct associate professor honored as outstanding adjunct

Even the words “college algebra” might send shivers up the spines of many people for whom math is a four-letter word.

But University of Cincinnati adjunct associate professor Deborah Keefe has steered countless students through treacherous waters to the safety of graduation through her personable and engaging classes, earning the respect of her colleagues and the appreciation of alumni.

For this reason and more, UC will honor Keefe with its 2021 Outstanding Adjunct Professor Award.

Portrait of Deborah Keefe.

UC's 2021 outstanding adjunct professor Deborah Keefe. Photo/Andrew Higley/UC Creative + Brand.

“Some people think they can’t do algebra. But I don’t believe that's true. Everyone can understand math if the concepts are broken down into key parts,” she said.

Student after student agrees. In online reviews, Keefe received high praise from students who said they would take her class again.

“She knows her stuff and really taught the content well,” one student wrote.

Michael Goldberg, professor and department head, in his endorsement letter said Keefe is a role model for the department and beloved by her students.

“I stopped counting after 200 glowing student comments,” Goldberg said.

Keefe is a UC alumna herself, earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in business administration. She devoted her career to teaching math at Highlands High School and Mariemont High School, all the while spending her evenings teaching evening classes at UC for 33 years.

“My main class has been college algebra. It’s my love,” Keefe said. “If you can do algebra, it’s the gateway to all the other maths.”

The classes are challenging to teach because they attract students who might have struggled with the subject in high school.

“A successful instructor needs to meet students where they are and give them confidence that this time will be different,” Goldberg said.

I truly believe that if you engage students in your subject and create an enthusiastic atmosphere, they can learn anything.

Deborah Keefe, UC's 2021 outstanding adjunct professor

UC assistant professor Sandra Bowen Franz nominated Keefe for the honor, noting she generously shares her time and experience with first-time instructors in the department.

“Associate professor Keefe is exemplary in her classroom instruction. Her students speak highly of the instruction she provides,” Bowen Franze wrote. “She works diligently and effectively toward the delivery of better mathematics courses. For example, she has her class ‘dance’ to ‘Saturday Night Fever’ to learn the end behavior of polynomials.”

“I try to make it fun. And that's not easy with math because it isn't all that 'amusing' a subject,” Keefe laughed. “But if I'm sincerely enthusiastic about it, the students seem eager to try to learn what algebra is really about.”

UC College of Arts and Sciences Dean Valerio Ferme said Keefe distinguishes herself by helping students succeed, which is reflected in UC’s retention and graduation rates.

“The impact of faculty’s effectiveness and success in the classroom is measured by the ability to get students across the finish line,” Ferme said. “There are few who can claim the broad impact she has had on our community.”

Now retired from teaching at Mariemont, the longtime swimming coach remains an athletic supervisor there. Since retiring from Mariemont, she has been teaching UC day classes in UC's College of Arts and Sciences.

She and her husband, Tom, have two grown daughters, Lee and Caroline. Caroline followed in her mother’s footsteps as a teacher in Florida.

“I truly believe that if you engage students in your subject and create an enthusiastic atmosphere, they can learn anything,” she said.

Faculty Awards 2021

The University of Cincinnati will honor 13 awardees in a virtual ceremony at 3 p.m. Thursday, April 22. Join via WebEx.