Aaron Montgomery has always gotten a rush from solving puzzles. While skydiving or rock climbing might be considered more traditional activities for adventure seekers, Montgomery says he gets a unique thrill from solving a math problem that he describes as an “ah-ha” moment. This thrill of solving a puzzle has stuck with Montgomery his whole life, and it ultimately led him to the University of Oregon in 2006 to begin a master’s and PhD program in mathematics, where he discovered his true professional calling: teaching.
Teaching a math course each term as a graduate student instructor, Montgomery quickly discovered that he had a great passion and talent for teaching. In his first year, he won the Kimble First Year Teaching award, and in 2011 he was awarded the Graduate School’s Graduate Teaching Excellence Award (then called the Donald and Darel Stein Graduate Student Teaching Award).
Winning the Graduate Teaching Award came as a welcome surprise to Montgomery, and served as confirmation that he was doing something right in the classroom.
“I knew there were lots of great graduate teachers at the UO, and I never really expected to be selected for the award,” Montgomery says. “It was great to know that what I was doing in the classroom was resonating with students and UO faculty.”
Not only was the award an encouraging acknowledgement; it also proved a useful tool in the hunt for a job. After graduating, Montgomery landed a tenure-track position at Baldwin Wallace University teaching mathematics, and he says the teaching awards on his resume were a great asset.
“It was tremendously helpful when I applied for jobs after receiving my PhD, because I had an artifact on my CV that I could point to that proved that I cared deeply about undergraduate teaching,” Montgomery says.
Getting a tenure-track teaching position was the realization of a long-term goal for Montgomery. Even before he began his graduate program, he had a good idea that he wanted to teach.
“I thought going into grad school that I would like teaching,” Montgomery explains. “I was never going to be the guy that was locked up in the tower doing math for math’s sake. I really like working with people.”
As a graduate student, Montgomery was impressed and greatly influenced by his professors, and says he sees a bit of their methods in his own teaching.
“They were people who shaped my life in a lot of ways,” he says. “I can see myself now emulating them in a lot of ways in how I teach. I was very lucky to spend time around them and learn from them.”
Montgomery is now in his fourth year teaching at Baldwin Wallace University in Berea, Ohio, where he lives with his wife, Melissa, and their daughter, Lila. He teaches calculus, introductory statistics, and upper division probability, which is his main interest.
This year Montgomery will be pushing the envelope of math education with an unconventional class that has a political slant: how to lie with statistics. He came up with the idea for the class as a way to start a dialogue on how politicians and pundits can manipulate data to support their arguments.
“A lot of people make claims, and then use numbers to back them up,” he says. “I’m hoping to get [students] to understand that data is not always clean and reliable. You can almost always cherry pick the numbers to support any position you want to take, and it’s important for people to know that.”
Building on the talent and dedication that won him two teaching awards as a graduate student, Montgomery has emerged as a talented professor who is helping the next generation of puzzle solvers use math in creative ways to understand the world around them. We can’t wait to hear what he does next!
Just as the Graduate School was proud to support Montgomery on his path to becoming a professor, we look forward to helping the next generation of teachers launch their careers. If you are an experienced and committed teaching graduate employee, you should consider applying for the Graduate Teaching Excellence Award! One award of $1000 will be made. Applications are due February 17th, 2017. For more details click here.