Credit: Nick Romanenko
A math professor adored by students for his quirky style and progressive pedagogical methods has been named New Jersey Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).
Stephen J. Greenfield, a Rutgers faculty member since 1969, said the key to teaching is to evolve and to view teaching as a “performance art.” “I hope this award reflects well on Rutgers,” he said. “Teaching our graduate and undergraduate students is an important part of Rutgers University’s mission. The story isn’t told well enough.”
The award celebrates skillful, enthusiastic and attentive teachers, a description that one student says Greenfield matches perfectly. “Every professor has office hours, but Professor Greenfield is of a rare breed,” said Joseph Walsh, a Rutgers College mathematics major. “A student having difficulty can drop by his office, totally unannounced, and Greenfield will immediately drop whatever he is doing.” Walsh said he still pops in on Greenfield occasionally for help and is always welcomed.
Richard S. Falk, math professor and department chair, nominated Greenfield based on his years of dedication to workshops, an innovative mentoring program and educational outreach to high school students and non-traditional math majors. “Whenever there is a mathematics course at Rutgers that needs improvement, it is Professor Greenfield who is asked or volunteers to teach it,” Falk wrote in his nomination letter.
Greenfield said that he used a practical approach to teaching until he realized that his students were less than engaged. “When I first started teaching I prepared absolutely meticulously and I gave absolutely lovely lectures in an intellectual sense. Which means that a student trying to follow what I was doing would be like an amateur climber trying to follow somebody more experienced up a cliff with ropes and crampons,” Greenfield said. “Now I make mistakes. A few are intentional. Other mistakes are perhaps carefully arranged.”
The Professors of the Year program salutes the most outstanding undergraduate instructors in the country. Initiated by CASE in 1981, the Carnegie Foundation began financially supporting the award in 1994. It rewards involvement with students, a scholarly approach to teaching, and advancing education in the university community and the profession.