MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — Middlebury College has awarded the 2012 Perkins Award for Excellence in Teaching to Emily Proctor, assistant professor of mathematics.
A native Vermonter, Proctor went to Bowdoin College and graduated summa cum laude. It was during her senior year at Bowdoin that she decided to become a mathematics teacher. So after a year spent working for an Internet company and a gourmet food shop, she was one of six students in 1997 selected for Dartmouth College’s doctoral program in mathematics.
Geometry became her passion, specifically the study of Riemannian geometry, Lie groups and orbifolds. At Dartmouth she earned a student fellowship from the National Science Foundation, served as a teaching assistant and lecturer, and wrote her doctoral dissertation on “Isospectral metrics on classical impact Lie groups.”
While at Dartmouth the idea of teaching at Middlebury “crossed her mind,” but it wasn’t until 2005 — while working as a visiting assistant professor at Swarthmore College — that the notion came true.
At Middlebury she teaches courses in geometry, algebra and calculus, and on two occasions has taught the Winter Term course “The Shape of Space.” Designed for students who are not majoring in mathematics, the course explores the assumption that “our three-dimensional universe goes on infinitely far in every direction, much as a two-dimensional plane does,” Proctor explains. “However, it is possible that we live in a three-dimensional universe that has a much more complicated and interesting shape than this. In the course ‘The Shape of Space,’ we learn about the shapes that the universe could possibly take.”
Students at Middlebury admire Proctor’s passion for teaching mathematics and her concern for undergraduates. In nominating her for the Perkins Award one student wrote: “Of all the professors I have had at Middlebury, none has spent more time with me outside of class than Professor Proctor. Whether I needed extra help understanding the implications of an important theorem or wanted advice in terms of summer research opportunities, she was there for me.”
Her service to Middlebury has included terms on the Community Council, the Athletic Policy Committee and the Faculty Council, and in 2009 Proctor and three other mathematicians from liberal arts colleges received funding from the Mellon Foundation to conduct a two-day workshop here for geometry professors.
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. The award supports the recipient’s faculty development. It is presented in even-numbered years to a member of the mathematics or computer science department, and in odd-numbered years to a faculty member who teaches in the natural sciences.