Kelly MacArthur, instructor (lecturer) in the Mathematics Department, has received
the 2020 University of Utah Distinguished Teaching Award. This is one of the highest
teaching honors awarded by the university. The award was established more than 50
years ago, and MacArthur is the first woman from the Math Department to receive it.
“I’m delighted to be recognized by the university,” said MacArthur. “Competition for the award is pretty intense, so it’s an honor to receive it.”
The Distinguished Teaching Award recognizes significant contributions to the teaching mission of the U. Only five faculty members are selected as outstanding teachers across the university each year.
MacArthur’s teaching style has evolved over her 25 years, especially during the last decade. “Part of my goal in teaching and mentoring is to encourage students to question the norms and attitudes within the math profession about who is welcome and who is allowed to teach,” said MacArthur. “Unfortunately, underrepresented students still struggle to see themselves as mathematicians and don’t always feel welcome in the math community.”
One of the ways MacArthur helps her students is by writing the same sentence every day on the whiteboard: “This is a kind, inclusive, brave, and failure-tolerant class.” She created the statement to encourage a sense of community and collaboration within the context of math class. “Failure tolerance is so important, and permission to fail often gets lost in math if students are only looking for the “right” answer,” said MacArthur. “It’s important to create an environment where students feel safe and free to make mistakes. My goal is to humanize the classroom and teach human beings. Teaching math is not the primary goal—it’s learning about my students and what speaks to them.”
Last year MacArthur received two teaching awards given by students: The Career Services Faculty Recognition Award and the Excellence in Education Award.
MacArthur is currently working on a Ph.D. in undergraduate mathematics education.