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In a twist, math professors create award for accomplished alums

Roger Day and Tami Martin

Roger Day and Tami Martin established the Mathematics Alumni Education Award to recognize alumni accomplishments.

Faculty members Tami Martin and Roger Day have endowed a fund in the Department of Mathematics that has a twist. Rather than recognizing the outstanding work of students, this one recognizes the outstanding work of alumni.

Martin and Day created the Mathematics Alumni Education Award after they heard from an alumna whose remarkable accomplishments had gone uncelebrated by the mathematics department and the University. Nancy Powell ’74, M.S. 90, spent more than 30 years teaching mathematics at Bloomington High School. In addition to serving as lead teacher for more than three decades, Powell earned the Presidential Award of Excellence for Secondary Mathematics Teaching in 1992 and a Golden Apple Award in 2008. When she retired in 2010, Powell had established herself as a highly respected educator.

“The year we established the award she was retiring,” said Martin, a professor in the Department of Mathematics. “I really wanted to make up for lost time, for not having acknowledged how proud she made her home institution.”

Powell was the first recipient of the award in 2010. She used the money to establish a fund for future teachers at her own school, though there are no guidelines that dictate how the award must be used.

Thanks to Martin and Day, who met at Illinois State as colleagues in 1997 and later married, alumni who have contributed to the field of mathematics education are recognized annually at a ceremony held during finals week.

Day and Martin present Gwen with award

Day and Martin present Gwen Zimmermann, Ph.D. ’02, with the Mathematics Alumni Education Award at a reception in May.

A committee appointed by the department chair selects each award recipient. Nominations can be made on the Department of Mathematics website and are not restricted to age or specific career choice, ensuring that any outstanding accomplishments in mathematics education have the opportunity to be recognized.

“So often folks just don’t get recognized for the things they’ve done day in and day out, and it’s gratifying to know that what we’ve done is working to try and do that,” said Day, who is an instructional assistant professor of mathematics. “We can’t honor them all of course, but this is in one way to recognize them.”

“I am sure we have alumni all over the country and all over the world who are doing great things,” Martin said. “We’d like for more of them to learn about and apply for the award. That way we have the opportunity to hear about the great things our alumni are doing, and to have some of those accomplishments acknowledged and celebrated by this award.”

Martin and Day hope to see the endowment grow in the future through the contributions of others and would eventually like to see more than one alumni award presented annually. In addition they would love to see other departments create similar awards as one more way to recognize the success of their own alumni.

Above all, Martin and Day agree that it is crucial to show that Illinois State University takes pride in the contributions of alumni.

“There are so many reasons to value someone’s work and contributions. This is just one avenue for achieving that goal.”

View a list of past Mathematics Alumni Education Award recipients or submit a nomination.

Make a gift and support the Mathematics Alumni Education Award.

Steven Barcus can be reached at