December 29, 2015

Bruce Hughes Receives Nordhaus Teaching Award

Professor Bruce Hughes is the recipient of the 2015 Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Hughes received his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky in 1981 and joined the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics in 1985. He has taught courses in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from elementary calculus to advanced upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses.

In recent years, he has been teaching three courses: Multivariable Calculus and Linear Algebra, Introduction to Topology, and Algebraic Topology. He has been instrumental in developing the curriculum for Multivarialble Calculus and Linear Algebra, which is an important introductory course usually taken by mathematics majors and honors students, in which students are required to master proofs and more advanced mathematical reasoning.

Hughes is known by students and fellow faculty members as an extremely passionate and enthusiastic teacher who cares deeply about his students. He receives consistently high ratings on student evaluations, in which written comments reflect a strong appreciation of his teaching style. Students almost uniformly praise his clear explanations and excellent preparation for lectures, and they also appreciate his unique teaching approach, his humor, his overall friendly personality, and his willingness to answer their questions and help them outside of class.

Hughes receives such enthusiastic evaluations while simultaneously holding students to high standards. This is apparent from the large number of student comments mentioning the difficulty of the material in his courses and his rigorous grading standards.

When not teaching, Hughes is actively involved in research. His research interests are in geometric and algebraic topology, manifold theory, controlled topology, stratified spaces, continua theory, and metric spaces. He is author or co-author of more than 30 papers and the recipient of the Fulbright Scholar Award as well as several National Science Foundation grants. He has given numerous invited talks and has organized several conferences and workshops.

“Bruce is an excellent teacher, and his teaching is making a difference in the lives of so many of our students,” says Department Chair Dietmar Bisch. “We are lucky to have him as a colleague and also as a role model for our students. He is truly deserving of this award.”

The Jeffrey Nordhaus Award was established in 1982 by a gift from Katherine Stumb Nordhaus and George Nordhaus in memory of their son, Jeffrey, victim of an airplane crash in 1979. Nominations are reviewed and ranked by student members of Phi Beta Kappa, after which the dean selects a winner.

More information about Hughes, including a list of his publications, is available on his web site:

Hughes is the second Department of Mathematics faculty member to have received the Nordhaus Award. Associate Professor Alex Powell was the recipient in 2012.