October 25, 2011

John Rafter Receives Gilliam Teaching Award

John Rafter, senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics, is the recipient of the 2011 Harriet S. Gilliam Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching by Lecturers and Senior Lecturers.

Rafter received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Vanderbilt in 1994.  He entered the business world with Aspect Communications, also serving as an adjunct instructor at Vanderbilt for one year. He became chief software architect at Aspect and acquired four patents while there. He returned to academia in 2004, accepting a position as a senior lecturer in the Department of Mathematics.

Rafter consistently earns extremely high ratings from students in his teaching evaluations, which routinely include comments of praise and enthusiasm. “He is one of the department’s most effective teachers,” says Department Chair Dietmar Bisch.

Rafter teaches calculus and upper-level undergraduate courses in actuarial mathematics, probability, mathematical statistics, number theory, logic, error-correcting codes, and cryptography.

He played an important role in the introduction of an actuarial track in the department. This sequence of courses has become quite popular among students and has resulted in a significant increase in the recruitment of Vanderbilt mathematics students by actuarial companies.

Rafter says his primary objective in all of his courses is to expose students to a mathematical thought process using a content-specific set of problems. He begins each course with a problem to be solved and, in the more applied courses, he leads the students through the development of a mathematical model. His class meetings are largely Socratic, with students answering questions as the class collaboratively works toward solutions to the problem.

His skills as a communicator and his experience as an instructor led to Rafter’s appointment as director of teaching for the department in fall 2010.

The Harriet S. Gilliam Award for Excellence in Teaching by a Lecturer or Senior Lecturer was established in 1995 in memory of Harriet S. Gilliam, B.A., 1966. The award recognizes a lecturer or senior lecturer who has achieved excellence in teaching undergraduates. The winner receives a cash award and an engraved Mississippi Julep pewter cup.