BA, Mathematics, University of Illinois, 2004
MS, Mathematics, Northern Illinois University, 2012
Current employer and job title:
Oregon Community Unit School District #220, National Board Certification Coordinator
National Board Resource Center at Illinois State University, Candidate Cohort Facilitator and leadership team
Danyel Graves Larsen of Oregon, Ill., has been named the recipient of the 2021 Alumni Humanitarian Award for her excellence and impact in the field of mathematics education.
For more than 15 years, Larsen has been cultivating the advancement of mathematics through education. After graduating from UIUC in 2004, she began teaching high school mathematics at Hiawatha Community Unit School District for three years before joining the Oregon Community School District in 2007.
Larsen’s impact on the students of Oregon Community School District has been tremendous since she joined the district. Prior to her coming to the district as a high school math teacher, Oregon High School (OHS) was scoring below average student achievement in the area of mathematics for schools of its size and demographics. Almost immediately, Larsen’s efforts served to change the course of education in mathematics for all OHS students. Within her first year, she was named department chair, and under her leadership, OHS dramatically changed its curriculum and course sequencing to better serve the needs of the students and community.
Currently, Larsen serves as National Board certification coordinator for the Oregon Community Unit School District and is also a candidate cohort facilitator for the National Board Resource Center at Illinois State University.
Among her numerous recognitions, Larsen has received the Lee Yunker Mathematics Leadership Award from the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics and been named an Exemplary Nominee for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development Outstanding Young Educator Award. In 2015, she earned a Those Who Excel Certificate of Meritorious Service Award from the Illinois State Board of Education and has been twice named a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2015 and 2017.
Additionally, Larsen holds membership in several professional organizations, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics. She also served on the Illinois Education Associations Teacher Leaders and National Board Outreach Committee.
Larsen graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from UIUC in 2004. She later completed a master’s degree in mathematics with a specialization in education from Northern Illinois University. She and her husband, Adam, have a son, Colin, 3, and are expecting a second son later this month.
Why did you choose to attend the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign?
I chose to attend Illinois because I wanted to be in the Marching Illini. I was in the mellophone section of MI, Basketball Band, and the Orange and Blues (for volleyball games). I also played the French horn in the Symphonic Band and Concert Band. I still play as often as I can to this day.
Why did you choose mathematics as your field of study?
I've always enjoyed mathematics, even if it wasn't the easiest field of study or the one I was the best at, because it's so logical and sequential. I love the connections that can be made between branches of mathematics and when those connections make sense or snap together intuitively in my mind. While studying math, I learned that my personality and way of thinking lent itself to helping others learn what I know, so it made sense to go into teaching.
What activities did you participate in while a student in the Department of Mathematics?
I was part of the math ed cohort.
What is your most memorable UIUC/Department of Mathematics experience?
My most memorable math experience was attending classes with my math ed cohort. We were a close group of friends that enrolled in most of our classes together so that we could work on our homework together.
What UIUC/Department of Mathematics professor or staff member made the greatest impact on you, and why?
One of my favorite stories about a Math professor is when I went in to declare my major with the department head. In taking down my information, he became engrossed with the fact that my social security number has three sets of double digits in it and then proceeded to work out the probability of having such a number. He enjoyed the problem so much that forgot he was filling out forms for me to declare my major!
What are some of your accomplishments since graduating?
In my opinion, one of my greatest accomplishments has been to become a National Board Certified Teacher. Earning my certification streamlined how I do what I do in my classroom by enabling me to focus my professional development on me and my students, rather than general ideas about mathematics education. Since earning my initial certification in 2009, I have helped other teachers do the same in their own classrooms and aided them in becoming better teachers through the process. Because of my certification, I've also had the privilege of working on committees at the national and state level with National Board to improve the process and inform them of how to best help teachers get certified.
I'm also very proud of being named a state finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching twice (2015 and 2017).
Apart from supporting UIUC, what is your favorite pastime?
My husband and I devote most of our free time to traveling to National Park Units and learning about the vast diversity in our country. There are currently 423 units in the system and we have visited 219 together. My favorite continues to be Glacier National Park. This past summer we finally got a small trailer for our adventures and hung up the tent that we've used since 2007.
I also love to travel outside of the United States -- I've been lucky enough to travel with my husband, family, friends, and even some of my students. Some highlights have been touring Machu Picchu in Peru with a friend, all the craziness that comes with traveling with students in Italy, France, and Spain, and learning what it's like to live and travel locally in Germany with my brother (stationed in the Bavarian region) and his family.
What is one concept you learned from the University of Illinois and/or Department of Mathematics that you use regularly?
I kept the majority of my math work from being a student at Illinois. A big concept that I use often with my students is pulling the work out and showing them that there were times that I excelled and did great work and then there were times that I did not do as well and had to try harder to learn the material. As an excellent math teacher, students often think I know everything about math. Having my old work and materials lends credibility to the fact that sometimes you have to work hard for what you know.
What advice would you give to current Department of Mathematics students about preparing for life after graduation?
Work hard and make those connections with everyone you can at Illinois. You never know where they will lead you after graduation! I never thought I would be a teacher, much less a teacher helping other teachers improve their teaching! The people I met at Illinois set me on that path.