ROE R. Cross Distinguished Professor
2007 - Betsy Yanik
All math teachers have problems and Emporia State University's professor of mathematics Betsy Yanik is no exception.
Unlike many people that fear calculus, algebra, geometry, or any other parts of the discipline conjured up by the Ancient Greeks between 300 and 600 B.C., however, Yanik has solutions to her problems.
"My passion is mathematics," Yanik says, with vigor, "because many people sigh or groan when I mention my discipline, let me follow up this statement with this — “my passion is also showing others the beauty, importance, and fun of mathematics — with the goal of improving their attitude toward and interest in mathematics.”
Yanik was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia and graduated summa cum laude with a double major in mathematics and physics from Marshall University. She went on to earn a master's and Ph.D., in mathematics from the University of Kentucky. Yanik taught at Louisiana State University and Virginia Commonwealth before moving to Emporia State in 1990.
Outside the classroom, Yanik has served as president of the faculty at Emporia State, moderator of the liberal arts and sciences Advisory Council, and was awarded the Mary Headrick and Ruth Schillinger awards. She has been a model grant writer at ESU, serving as co-director of five National Science Foundation grants, three Eisenhower grant projects, four Mathematical Association of America grants, and three grants from the National Security Agency.
And while her students are Yanik's prime focus, she is heavily involved in creating and maintaining outreach programs to encourage young people, especially those from underrepresented populations to continue to study mathematics, and in interdisciplinary work connecting math with biology and physics.
She served on the Board of Governors of the Mathematical Association of America. She is a past president of the Women and Mathematics Education Association and is currently a member of their advisory board. She currently serves as the National Director of the Women and Mathematics Network.
In 2004 she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. These ceremonies included a meeting with the President in the Oval Office.
It was not a simple 2 + 2 question when she began her career path.
"I chose teaching as a career because I always enjoyed helping others to understand a concept,” explains Yanik. "I think I knew as early as middle school that I would like to teach. I also thought fairly early that I wanted to teach at the university level because I enjoyed mathematics and there are so many interesting courses to teach at the university level.
"It is amazing to realize that I originally planned to obtain a Ph.D and teach at my alma mater, Marshall University, in my hometown," she says. "I certainly didn’t foresee my career taking me to teaching opportunities in Louisiana, Virginia, and Kansas and traveling to such distant locations as Korea, China, and Japan. I also could never have imagined being the recipient of a Presidential Award and being in the Oval Office."
Yanik hopes all her students take away from her classes the "genuine enjoyment of doing mathematics."
Adds Yanik, "To have an unresolved question or problem and then to be able, sometimes after lengthy work, to find an explanation (proof) or a solution to the given problem is a very satisfying and rewarding experience. Of course for my students, many of whom are themselves becoming teachers, I hope I have also modeled good teaching."
As a mathematician might say, Yanik's last statement is a given.