NC School of Science and Mathematics
2016 Excellence in Teaching Award Winner: Philip Rash, North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics
Exceptional teacher and extraordinary mentor — Philip Rash, as an Instructor of Mathematics more than 12 years at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM), has led hundreds of highly capable students to discover the beauty of mathematics and the importance of learning throughout life. He expects his students to take ownership of their learning, as mathematics “is not a spectator sport.” He sees his role as “not only a teacher, striving to be an expert in my field; but also a student, always learning something new about both the content and the students that I teach.”
A versatile instructor, Rash typically takes on multiple preparations each trimester and has taught an extraordinary range of courses at NCSSM, including pre-calculus, calculus, statistics, numerical analysis, combinatorics, graph theory, and advanced math problem solving. His motivated students characterize him as “always enthusiastic about teaching” and “always willing to offer help on assignments and concepts I don’t understand. He introduced me to a whole new way of thinking about math.”
National Board-certified, Rash is a regular presenter at professional conferences, including the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCCTM) and NCSSM’s Teaching Contemporary Mathematics. Yet beyond NCSSM, he likely is best known for his involvement with mathematics competitions. He is the current co-chairman of the NCCTM State Math Contest Committee, which organizes North Carolina’s state competition at 15 local qualifying sites and the finals at NCSSM. He is a coach for North Carolina’s American Regions Math League team, which won first place nationally in both 2006 and 2012. And he coached the NCSSM team that won the 2012 Singapore International Mathematics Challenge.
Always readily accessibile to both students and colleagues, Rash has won previous NCSSM Teaching Awards for Outreach as well as Service to Students. He has been an essential faculty member in NCSSM’s Step up to Stem summer program for rising 9th grade underrepresented minority students from across the state. The Mathematical Association of America has recognized him with its Edyth May Sliffe Award for Distinguished High School Mathematics Teaching.
Rash has even translated his primary avocation – flying -- into a learning opportunity for students, by offering his popular Introduction to Aviation Mini-Term course for over a decade. He also has served multiple years as a Hall Parent in our residential school, and was elected by his peers to a two-year term as President of NCSSM’s Faculty Senate.
Rash earned both a BS in computer science and BS.Ed. in mathematics at Western Carolina University in 1999; then completed his Master of Education in mathematics at Western Carolina University in 2003.
Q. The Teaching Awards were established in 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to encourage, identify, recognize, reward, and support good teaching within the University. What does this award mean to you?
A. In one word, it’s flattering, given that I work with so many other great colleagues. I can remember starting here about 12 years ago and being in awe of the chance to work with people like Dan Teague, Dot Doyle, all the other great people in our math department and the rest of the school. Frankly, I’m still in awe of people like Dan (winner of the 2008 UNC Teaching Excellence Award).
Q. What was your career path into the teaching profession?
A. By my senior year in high school, I had pretty much decided I wanted to teach math. I taught for two years in western North Carolina, between my undergraduate and graduate degrees, then for one year after my master’s degree, otherwise I’ve only taught here at NCSSM.
One of the changes I’ve seen in myself is that, when I first started teaching, it was more about the math. Essentially teaching was kind of a way to get to do math and share it with other people. Over the years, I’ve transitioned to it being more about the students — and I get to work with some excellent students.
Q. Besides this award, is there one particular achievement in your career that makes you especially proud?
A. Yes, probably when Katie Dektar (NCSSM ’07, Stanford ’11) called to invite me to Stanford. She was being presented with the Frederick Emmons Terman Engineering Scholastic Award, given to only the top five percent of each year's undergraduate senior engineering class. Terman scholars attend a celebratory luncheon and invite their most influential high school teacher. They do the ceremony in such a nice way, honoring the students but also the teachers, and the endowment covers all your expenses to be there.
Q. What teaching methods do you use to engage students?
A. Simply put, I believe in trying to get students to discover things rather than just being told them. Of course there’s a time for just telling, but as much as possible, I’m trying to get students to think and figure things out themselves. For some students that’s an adjustment because they may be used to just being told what to do. I want to help them make discoveries, on their own and working with other students.