2016 Excellence in Teaching Award Winner: Steven Bourquin, University of North Carolina at Pembroke
In the twelve years that Steven Bourquin has been at UNC Pembroke, he has established a reputation for teaching mathematics to our students unmatched by any other faculty member. He has received the UNCP Outstanding Teaching Award twice since assuming his position in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.
Bourquin has taught a wide range of courses in mathematics at UNCP. His teaching philosophy aims at awakening what he believes is a natural desire for the “mathematical perspective” in all students. This philosophy is demonstrated in a natural ability to stimulate interest in math especially statistics in the classroom. He succeeds in rendering the abstract conceptual nature of statistical methods easily understandable for undergraduate students. His successes, therefore, are heightened by the fact that large numbers of UNCP students are among the first in their families to attend college.
His courses employ many hands-on examples to provide the skills to solve problems. According to Bourquin’s teaching philosophy, all of the concepts taught in his courses center on the idea that “mathematics is a participation sport.” Therefore, Bourquin encourages generous interaction and discussion among students, and he uses the entire class when teaching. In his words, he tries to “exceed their needs in the process of learning mathematics.” His dissertation centered on math anxiety and math self-efficacy in performance. His findings indicated the need to reduce math anxiety and empower students by increasing their math self-efficacy to augment math performance. And that is what he does in the classroom.
Bourquin’s work in the classroom extends beyond the confines of UNCP. His students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college, work in local schools as teachers. He has indirect roots in this predominantly rural Native American community through the service and work his students are doing to cultivate new generations of college students; something our current Chancellor, Robin Cummings, has placed as one of the top priorities for his administration. Bourquin is carrying out the goal of the Chancellor to make UNCP a national leader in American Indian scholarship, teaching and research in preparing UNCP students for the future.
Bourquin has over 25 years of teaching experience in higher education. He received his Bachelor of Science in engineering, Master of Science in mathematics, and Doctor of Philosophy in administration in higher education from Ohio University. Bourquin has been in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science since 2003. He has been the Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science since 2007.
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. UNC Pembroke is blessed to have a large number of outstanding professors on campus. I am humbled and honored to receive this award. This year is the first time since inception that the BOG Award for Excellence in Teaching has been presented to a faculty member in the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at UNCP. I am pleased to accept this award on behalf of the outstanding faculty members in the department. Each faculty member in the department is fully committed to providing our students with the best classroom instruction and I am honored to represent them.
Q. What was your path into teaching?
A. I am a first-generation college student from a small town located in Louisville, Ohio. My primary goal in high school was to use every means necessary to go to college and receive a degree in engineering. I utilized my talents in football and mathematics to achieve academic and athletic scholarships to complete a degree in electrical engineering from Ohio University in 1988. It wasn’t until I attended graduate school at Ohio University at the age of 23 that my entire focus turned from engineering to teaching mathematics. After teaching one section of college algebra during my first quarter of graduate school as a teaching associate, I knew that my passion was to become a college professor and teach mathematics providing opportunities for other students to achieve their academic goals. I am grateful every day of my life for the change in career path I chose in 1988.
Q. Besides this award, is there one particular achievement in your career that makes you especially proud?
A. Chairing the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science for the past 10 years and working with first-generation college students to obtain their academic goals and dreams is the achievement that brings me the most joy. In 2012, I was inducted to The Louisville High School Athletic Hall of Fame. The Board of Governors Award combined with the High School Hall of Fame induction reminds me of how I was able to utilize my passion for mathematics and football to work my way through college and be at this point in my career. I know if my parents were still living, they would be very proud of my efforts to help other students achieve their academic goals and dreams. My father passed away in 2008 from cancer and my mother passed away from ALS in 2012. My parents always believed in me and I am grateful to them for showing me how to be a service leader.
Q. What teaching methods do you use to engage students?
A. The topic of my dissertation studies the effects of math anxiety and math self-efficacy on math performance. In teaching mathematics, it is imperative to decrease math anxiety while increasing math self-efficacy. For these reasons, I try to create a friendly environment for learning and an atmosphere of trust and respect between the students and myself. “Learning is personal” and I keep this in mind while making an honest effort to know all of my students by their first names and showing an interest in their college careers both in and out of the classroom. This often provides the students with a feeling of importance and comfort in the classroom. In addition, my personal interest creates an environment that encourages interaction between the students and me in the classroom and in my office. I want my students to feel comfortable enough to question me about any aspect of the material, regardless if it is thought to be a “stupid” question about basic arithmetic or it involves more complex issues. I have an open door policy; students consult with me often on coursework as well as on non-class issues. I take great pride in this; they feel they can come to me with rather serious situations that may or may not be related to mathematics. To me, the most important component to being a good teacher is forming a positive relationship with every student in my class.