posted May 14, 2012

Science-Education Consortium Honors Tim Pennings

Dr. Tim Pennings of the Hope College mathematics faculty has received one of two 2012 “Janet Andersen Lecture Awards” from the Midstates Consortium for Math and Science.

The award is intended to honor faculty who have vigorous research programs involving undergraduates, who are exceptional mentors for undergraduate research students, who are engaged and skilled teachers, or who create interdisciplinary research opportunities for undergraduate students.  The recognition includes an invitation to speak during one of the consortium’s fall Undergraduate Research Symposia on a topic of the recipient’s choice.

Established in 2008, the award is named for former Hope College faculty member Dr. Janet Andersen, a professor of mathematics who died of injuries sustained in an automobile accident in November 2005.  Andersen had also served as director of the consortium for the five years before her death.

Recipients of the award are chosen based on nominations from colleagues. Pennings was nominated by Dr. Mark Pearson, associate professor of mathematics at Hope, who noted that he exemplifies the ideals by which Andersen lived.

“Since he began teaching at Hope College in 1988, Tim has profoundly impacted the lives of a great number of his students, whether mentoring them in mathematics research, teaching them in one of his many courses, or simply by conversing them with following movie nights in his house, after racquetball games, or over lunch,” Pearson said.  “Regardless of the context, Tim is committed to providing his students with the best possible learning experiences and helping them grow as scholars and people.”

Pennings specializes in mathematical modeling, the way in which mathematics describes natural phenomena.  He has mentored research students almost every year since 1990, and has directed the college’s summer “Research Experiences for Undergraduates” program in mathematics since 1995.

He and his research students together have explored topics ranging from how bicycles stay upright, to how to more effectively serve a volleyball, to why, after decades of subjugation, the Arab Spring seemingly spontaneously occurred.

In 2003, Pennings and his Welsh corgi, Elvis, were featured as the cover story of the May issue of “The College Mathematics Journal” for Pennings’s exploration of how Elvis pursues naturally the ideal mathematical solution for how to retrieve a ball thrown into the water from the beach.  In the years since, they have together made the presentation “Do Dogs Know Calculus?” around the country, with a particular focus on demonstrating mathematical principles to students, and have been featured in the national and international media.  In 2008, Pennings and his co-author Dr. Roland Minton of Roanoke College received the George Polya Award from the Mathematical Association of America for their article “Do Dogs Know Bifurcations?,” published in the November 2007 edition of the “College Mathematics Journal.”

Pennings has also had numerous publications in professional journals and made multiple presentations regarding research projects other than his work with Elvis.  Many of the presentations and articles have featured Hope students as co-presenters and co-authors.

Among other honors through the years, he received an “Exemplary Paper in Humility Theology” award in 1996 from the John Templeton Foundation for his paper “Infinity and the Absolute: Insights Into Our World, Our Faith and Ourselves.”  In 1997, the foundation named him a winner in its “Science and Religion Course Competition” for the Hope Senior Seminar course that he had developed to explore the same theme.  He also received an award for the course through the “Development Grants” program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in 2000.

His active involvement in the campus community includes serving as faculty advisor for the student Outdoor Adventure Club.  He has three times made presentations during the college’s annual “Winter Happening”:  in January 1999, on “Chaos: New Mathematics Reveals the Inner Workings of Nature”; in January 2003, focusing on Elvis’s modeling of calculus; and in January of this year with research student Morgan Smith of Grand Rapids, focusing on student involvement in mathematical-modeling research.

Pennings joined the Hope faculty as an assistant professor, and was promoted to associate professor in 1993 and full professor in 2004.  He graduated from the University of North Dakota with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1979, and completed his Master of Science degree at the University of North Dakota in 1981 and his doctorate at Iowa State University in 1987.

The Midstates Consortium for Mathematics and Science was founded by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 1988. The consortium seeks to improve undergraduate science and mathematics education by providing high-quality and flexible professional development opportunities for students and faculty at the member institutions. Major activities include two annual symposia on undergraduate research hosted at Washington University and the University of Chicago, faculty development workshops, and exchange programs that support visits of students and faculty members to other member schools to give presentations or to enhance research collaborations.