Professor Eugene Lerman has been named a 2023 recipient of the LAS Dean’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.
Lerman has taught mathematics at Illinois for 25 years, and for him to win this award was no surprise to his colleagues. “Eugene Lerman is one of the most effective teachers of highly advanced pure and applied mathematics in the undergraduate setting,” reads the nomination letter from the Department of Mathematics Prize Committee. The letter notes that Lerman is not only successful at helping students become fluent in difficult material, but that he also instills in them “an ethic of scientific excellence.”
Testimonies from undergraduate students attest to the significant impact Lerman has had on their overall success and interest in mathematics: “Math, as [Professor Lerman] presented it, was so certain, powerful, and fundamental that I couldn’t resist continuing up the ladder of math classes,” said one student.
Multiple students said that after taking courses with Lerman, they could come to depend on Lerman’s attentiveness and the thoroughness of his instructional style, lauding his ability to cover the widest breadth of material possible while carefully focusing on concepts that would be most valuable in subsequent studies. They also noted Lerman’s dedication to providing clarity to his students: “I have often encountered omissions in textbooks or in other courses which I have not been able to fill in myself, even after consulting what references I could find; many times, a look at the course notes presented freely on Professor Lerman’s website has supplied me the missing idea,” said one student.
In fall 2020, when almost all instruction was online, Lerman taught in two formats, providing a fully online version with recorded lectures, as well as in-person sessions (with appropriate precautions) to expand on the lectures. He prepared new material each in-person class period in direct response to student questions and interests. A recent Illinois graduate who had been in those in-person sessions reported that when Lerman was not able to answer a question in a given class period, he would return at the start of the next session with “not just a convincing answer, but a library of references for us to take the ideas further on our own.”
A senior math major summed up the hallmarks of Lerman’s teaching practice by saying, “He is incredibly energetic, fanatically honest, and deeply humane, and is to me the model of a true intellect and scholar.”
Lerman is currently working to help the mathematics department develop a new major, and he also has plans to revise more undergraduate courses. He says he is honored to receive the Dean’s Award, though it is clear he would have the same dedication to his students even without the glory. “In my teaching I am just trying to do what’s right, no more, no less,” says Lerman.