Middlebury

Professor who probes connection between mathematics and the humanities wins Perkins Award

March 22, 2010

Middlebury, Vt. - Middlebury College has awarded the 2010 Perkins Award for Excellence in Teaching to Professor of Mathematics Stephen D. Abbott.

Abbott, who joined the Middlebury faculty in 1993, explores the intersection of mathematics and the humanities, and is committed to making math more accessible to his students.

As one undergraduate said, "Professor Abbott is absolutely incredible. He made calculus fun, exciting, and completely understandable." Another simply called him "a maestro" in the classroom, so it comes as no surprise that Abbott received the Perkins Award once before, in 1998.

Dean for Faculty Development and Research James Ralph said that Abbott "embodies a distinctive type of professor: the teacher/scholar/mentor/educator whose presence on campus is what makes residential liberal arts colleges like Middlebury so special."

Abbott recently led the annual winter seminar for new faculty at the College. In addition, he is the co-editor of "Math Horizons," a quarterly publication of the Mathematical Association of America that is designed to expand the intellectual horizons of students. Abbott's field of mathematics is real analysis, and his textbook "Understanding Analysis" (Springer-Verlag Press, New York, 2001) is a mainstay in the field.

Abbott and his wife, Katy, served as faculty co-heads of Ross Commons for six years, a position that brought them into daily contact with students both inside and outside the academic arena.

Ralph noted that Abbott is motivated by the idea of discovery, and this is reflected in his teaching, scholarship, research, and dedication to the field of mathematics.

During his sabbatical next year, Abbott will be a visiting fellow at Cambridge University in England, both at Clare Hall and at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities. There he will participate in an interdisciplinary workshop with other fellows; conduct research on the intersection of science, mathematics and the humanities (especially theatre); and work on his forthcoming book tentatively titled "Mathematics as Art in Contemporary Theatre."

His endeavors in the U.K. will be a natural extension of the popular course he team-teaches at Middlebury with Professor of Theatre Cheryl Faraone. That interdepartmental course is called "Mathematics and Science as Art in Contemporary Theatre."

Abbott is a graduate of Colgate University, where he was valedictorian of his class, and the University of Virginia, where he earned his Ph.D. in mathematics. Together with Katherine Smith Abbott, who is associate dean of the college, the Abbott family resides in Middlebury with their two children, Elliott, 12, and Josie, 10.

The Perkins Award is provided by the Professor Llewellyn R. Perkins and Dr. Ruth M.H. Perkins Memorial Research Fund, and was made possible by a gift from Ruth Perkins, Middlebury Class of 1932, in memory of her husband, Llewellyn, who taught at Middlebury from 1914 through 1941. Professor Perkins founded and chaired the mathematics department.

Their children, Marion Perkins Harris '57, a science teacher, and David Perkins, a physician, augmented the fund and expanded the scope of the award to honor their mother, Ruth, as well as their father. It is awarded annually to a faculty member in the field of mathematics or science.