May 25, 1995
Vol. 14, No. 18

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    Amoco Teaching Award: Paul Sally

    Paul Sally loves teaching. It is immediately evident from the enthusiastic way he talks about his profession. In the 30 years he has been at Chicago, Sally, Professor in Mathematics and Director of Undergraduate Mathematics Studies, has taught scores upon scores of undergraduates -- not to mention high school students, graduate students, young children and teachers.

    "I have always had an overwhelming interest in education in mathematics, from kindergarten to beyond graduate school," he said. "If I ever had a goal it was to tie together education in mathematics at all these levels. My philosophy is that what you do in fourth grade is the same thing you do in graduate school, except in grad school it's a little deeper -- maybe a lot deeper. But the mathematics is the same."

    Paul Sally also loves Chicago, both because the University values teaching so highly and because the students are so willing to learn. "One feels that if you really like teaching and you want to be involved with students in a very direct way, it's not only encouraged -- it's honored," he said.

    "And what's beautiful about Chicago students is that they expect to work hard. If they're not working hard enough, they sometimes complain -- until it gets to the end of the quarter, at which time they wish there was a little bit less work," he said, smiling.

    "What's also great about the University is its setting, here in the city of Chicago, which makes it possible to engage in a variety of teaching enterprises," Sally said.

    Sally began teaching junior high school and high school mathematics in Boston just after receiving his B.S. from Boston College in 1954. He received his M.A. from Boston College in 1956 and his Ph.D. from Brandeis in 1965, the same year that he joined the Chicago faculty. He received his first teaching award from the University, the Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, in 1967.

    Five years after he came to Chicago, Sally began coordinating, with Larry Hawkins, Director of Special Programs, a citywide math competition for students in public high schools, and the two began bringing small groups of high school students to campus for special courses. Sally was the first director of the University's School Mathematics Project, a program to initiate widespread curricular reform in mathematics at the elementary and high school level.

    He also directs, along with Diane Herrmann, Associate Director of Undergraduate Studies in Mathematics, a summer program for mathematically talented seventh- through twelfth-graders. More than 100 young students come to campus for four weeks in the summer and then return on 12 Saturday mornings throughout the school year. The two also conduct staff development classes for elementary school teachers.

    "These two programs blend very well with the undergraduate and graduate curricula here," said Sally. "The undergraduates serve as counselors for the youth, and graduate students work with the elementary school teachers. So, in fact, all of the programs that I am involved in tie together. And Chicago can really provide the kinds of resources -- bright undergraduates, bright graduate students, many of whom show real interest in becoming involved in mathematics education -- that make these programs succeed. And Chicago is the place students select because they are looking for something rather special, because of the University's outlook on education and the opportunity to get involved in education."

    When Sally is teaching undergraduates, he has one course that is a particular favorite, an honors course in analysis for talented second-year students and what he calls "pyrotechnic" first-year students.

    "This course has produced a large number of research mathematicians," he said. "You knock these students to the ground with mathematics and they leap up crying for more. That makes it really fun for me as a teacher."

    -- Diana Steele