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(Boston, Mass.) — Emma Previato, professor of mathematics at Boston University, has been selected by the Northeastern Section of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) for its Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award. The award will be presented to Previato at the section’s meeting in June. Previato is the fourth member of BU’s mathematics faculty to receive this honor in the award’s 10-year history.
In choosing Previato for this distinction, the selection committee noted how the BU professor stood out from the field of excellent candidates because of “the extent to which her influence on students extends beyond the classroom.” Nominations for Previato noted the “enormous effort she devotes to mentoring students” as well as her role as “a guide, an encourager, a friend, a mentor, and a life-long learner.”
These accolades are backed by Previato’s activities during her nearly 20 years of teaching and research at Boston University. In addition to teaching algebraic geometry, a field in which she is a researcher of international repute, Previato has taught more than 20 courses including differential and non-Euclidean geometry, number theory, abstract algebra, and coding theory, as well as standard undergraduate courses such as calculus.
Previato believes teaching and research activities are inseparable and regularly involves students in mathematics research. This is important, she says, so that students “understand immediately that they can do research, that they can ask questions and create the answers themselves.” This year Previato originated what will become an annual symposium on undergraduate research: RUMBUS, Research by Undergraduates in Mathematics Boston University Symposium. It was held on campus in late March.
Outside the classroom Previato has developed an exceptional range of mathematics-related initiatives and activities to share her love of mathematics, a discipline she believes has much in common with music and the arts. She founded and serves as advisor to BU’s student chapter of MAA and also serves as advisor to BU’s teams for the annual William Lowell Putnam Exam, administered by MAA, and for the annual international Mathematical Contest in Modeling, sponsored by the Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications.
Previato founded the BU Humanities–Mathematics Project, which publishes the interdisciplinary journal Inclusions and sponsors an annual symposium linking scholars, students, and nonacademics from a variety of disciplines. She also initiated the BU Masterclasses, topical lectures in mathematics at which University students and faculty interact with students and faculty from Boston University Academy, a private secondary school run by Boston University.
“This award is a tribute to my students and an inspiration to me,” says Previato. “I feel gratitude when I go into the classroom. I believe we have great students at BU. One of the rewards of teaching is the way your ideas get picked up by the students, acquire a life of their own, and come back to you grown and unrecognizable. The culture at Boston University is exceptionally supportive. Being here is a privilege.”
Boston University, with an enrollment of more than 29,000 in its 17 schools and colleges, is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States. Faculty in the University’s Mathematics and Statistics Department conduct research in algebra, applied statistics, dynamical systems and their applications, geometry, mathematical neuroscience and biology, mathematical physics, number theory, partial differential equations, and probability. Programs for specialized applications are the Statistics and Consulting Unit and the Center for Biodynamics.