For Dr. Ho, her career as a math professor has always been grounded in the pleasures and rewards of learning. She began teaching while she was in her graduate and Ph.D. programs at Colorado State University (CSU), but even from the beginning, Dr. Ho was interested in teaching a variety of math-related topics and worked in close collaboration to achieve this goal. However, it’s not her love of learning alone that also drives her forward, it’s her gratitude as well. She notes how supportive CSU’s math department was in allowing her to dabble in multiple fields, and how thankful she was for the numerous learning opportunities she had from her graduate professors. “I want to specifically highlight Dr. Mary Pilgrim, who is currently an Associate Professor at San Diego State University,” she says. “She was a great informal teaching mentor and is now a research collaborator. She wasn’t my formal advisor in any way, but she observed my teaching, gave me tips, and wrote a strong recommendation that helped me in my job search.” Dr. Ho believes that Dr. Pilgrim’s support as well as the support of her graduate math department during the beginning of her academic career served as a launching pad for her teaching career, and even helped in some ways to mold her definition of what makes a teacher.
In 2018, after serving for a few years as an assistant professor at Coastal Carolina University (CCU), Dr. Ho’s career would shift as she started her new role as a math lecturer at UTK. With this new position, Dr. Ho found the opportunity to apply all she had learned both in her time with CCU’s tight-knit department and her mentorship with Dr. Pilgrim at CSU as she was appointed to lead a small team of faculty to revamp the distance education Master of Math (MM) program, which primarily targets current high school teachers. She now serves as the director of this program as well as teaches and conducts math education research.
For Dr. Ho, her teaching philosophy is more personal than it is professional, and it starts long before she ever stepped onto a college campus. “My family highly values learning—my parents epitomize being lifelong learners, and even at their age, they continue to enroll in classes and to read about new topics all the time,” she reflects; “my parents come from humble origins, so the education opportunities changed their life trajectories. Because my family instilled a value for learning in me, I was extremely grateful for the attentiveness of my professors when I started my bachelors at a small liberal arts school (Regis University in Denver, CO),” she says.
Dr. Ho also notes how her professors went beyond the routine emphasis of content knowledge—they also showed that they cared about all their students as people. She admires how driven they were to push her and other students to learn, as well as to reflect on their place in society and how they could contribute to their communities.
“In my teaching,” Dr. Ho remarks, “I am always considering these positive experiences that I had as a student. It’s why I make it a point to let my students know that I care about their academic performance just as much as I care about their well-being as people.” She does this by creating multiple communication channels in all her courses so that her students have a choice in the way that they can voice their perspectives. “I know that not every student has had positive experiences with school and with math classes,” she remarks, “but I remind them that they belong in my class and that I’m here to help.” Hence why Dr. Ho also makes it a point to demonstrate to her students the various ways that math connects to other topics. In class, she always explicitly emphasizes how the skills that her students practice in math are relevant to any career path, such as communication skills, collaboration skills, and reflection.
“Lastly,” Dr. Ho notes, “I am always seeking to continually improve or adapt my teaching over time.” Perhaps that’s the influence of her parents’ belief in lifelong learning shining through. “I do education research, so that helps to keep me up to date on evidence-based pedagogical ideas,” she says, “but I also have a network of other educators that I regularly talk to, and we swap ideas at conferences as well as online. For instance, I am part of a group that started with joking arguments about what entails a ‘sandwich’— these conversations became pedagogical ones, and I have actually implemented a sandwich definition task in my proofs-based math courses that my students found highly engaging.”
All these worthwhile investments Dr. Ho has made in implementing her teaching philosophy have created unique experiences between her and her students—ones that she does not take for granted in the slightest. When asked about the ways that she has positively impacted her students’ learning experiences, she enthusiastically exclaims “ask my students instead of me! I save all the thank you notes that I have ever received from the kind students who went out of their way to write me one.” She gave us two quotes from former students to share here below:
‘Your dedication and love for teaching really shows and has helped me gain confidence in math.’
‘With our course, you never quit showing that you were there to help us. Not only did you make sure we still got the information we needed for our class, but you also went the extra mile to check on how we were doing mentally, physically, emotionally, etc. outside of school. Knowing that someone, especially a professor, cares for our well-being even outside of their course means so much.’
“I look at these when I’m having a bad day,” She says, “as with many things in education, change happens over longer stretches of time, so the cumulative effect of regularly interacting with many students has impacted me more than anything else.”
It’s those interactions that are shaping the way Dr. Ho wants to see higher education evolve. She recognizes the financial risks students are taking when furthering their higher education, which is why she finds it necessary to help them make the most of their time pursuing a degree; not just presenting them with a set of tools and theories that will set them up for future success, but also providing them with an enriching, well-rounded education.
“It’s easy for some to think of a college degree as just a means to a career with a good salary, but as someone who has been deeply impacted by a liberal arts education, I don’t think that’s enough.” As a mathematician, Dr. Ho thinks that strong quantitative literacy and technical skills are important, but she will also readily agree that it’s just as crucial to think about the impacts of algorithms on our communities, the ethical implications of our technologies, and other human or environmental factors.
For Dr. Ho, the future of higher education also means having more interdisciplinary conversations, especially across subjects that are traditionally categorized as separate. “For example,” she notes, “learning about history and philosophy has made me more aware of the context from which STEM fields have grown. Also, one of the most memorable math classes that I attended as a student included an analogy with learning a foreign language—it was because I studied a foreign language in school that I better understood the math concept.”
Dr. Ho also looks to the words of mathematician Dr. Francis Su as she thinks about the future of higher education: “Mathematics is for human flourishing.” Looking ahead, I’d like to generalize this idea to the entirety of higher education and say that we should all ask ourselves how we contribute to ‘human flourishing’ every time we make a decision at the university and in the profession.”
Lastly, to promote the future she wishes to see in higher education, Dr. Anne Ho would like to recommend to any faculty that shares her vision to read Mathematics for Human Flourishing, a book written by Dr. Francis Su.
Dr. Anne Ho participates in TLI’s Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) program and is also frequent TLI workshop attendee. For more information on TLI’s SoTL program, please visit our SoTL web page.