December 12, 2017

Mark Ellingham Receives Nordhaus Teaching Award

Professor Mark Ellingham is the recipient of the 2017 Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Ellingham received his Ph.D. from the University of Waterloo in 1986 and joined Vanderbilt’s Department of Mathematics the same year. He has taught a variety of mathematics courses for both math majors and non-majors, ranging from mid-level undergraduate courses to graduate courses.

Ellingham’s areas of expertise are graph theory, combinatorics, and optimization theory. He regularly teaches graduate and upper-level undergraduate courses in those subjects, and his student evaluations for all of these courses are consistently very high.

Among the many courses he has taught is Linear Algebra, a class that is especially important for math majors because it is a prerequisite for all upper-level math courses. Linear Algebra is an abstract and proof-based subject that most students find difficult to learn and many instructors find challenging to teach. Ellingham’s student evaluations for a recent Linear Algebra class are therefore particularly impressive: his overall rating as an instructor of this course were all “excellent,” giving him the highest possible average in the overall rating category.

A common feature of Ellingham’s teaching evaluations is praise for his ability to convey difficult mathematical ideas. “It was amazing how easily he explained complex concepts and broke them down into clear, easily understandable explanations,” one student wrote. Students also frequently remark on his obvious enthusiasm for his subject. Ellingham receives such consistently positive evaluations while simultaneously holding students to high standards, as evidenced by the many students who also mention his rigorous grading policies.

“Mark Ellingham is an admired teacher and mentor, a role model for our students and junior faculty, and an outstanding citizen of the mathematics department,” said Department Chair Mike Neamtu. “The Nordhaus award is a well-deserved recognition of his exemplary commitment to undergraduate education. We are very fortunate to have Mark as a colleague.”

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 Ellingham, including a list of his publications, is available on his website.

Ellingham is the third Department of Mathematics faculty member to have received the Nordhaus Award. Alex Powell was the recipient in 2012 and Bruce Hughes in 2015.