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Math Chair Named D.C.’s Top Professor

November 20, 2008 –The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) have named Georgetown’s James Sandefur the 2008 District of Columbia Professor of the Year.

Sandefur, professor and chair of the mathematics department at Georgetown, received the title after being selected from a pool of faculty nominated by colleges and universities throughout Washington, D.C.

“It is very exciting to have received this honor,” says Sandefur. “I was honored just to be nominated by Georgetown, considering all of the wonderful faculty we have here.”

The professor says he owes this recognition to his collaborations with the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) [link to:]. Through CNDLS, he has gotten involved in the Engelhard Project, a program that helps Sandefur infuse health issues into his general education math course. Students in his course solve problems of alcohol metabolism specific to their gender. They address alcoholism, drug interactions, obesity, the environment and other questions relevant to their new college life and decision-making process away from home.

Sandefur also has been investigating ways to improve students’ abilities to reason about complex mathematical problems. Since 2001, he has videotaped students as they work individually and in groups as part of the project. By asking them to verbalize what they are thinking as they work through a given task, he gets a unique view of their thought processes. His method, known as “think-aloud,” combats a chronic roadblock in creative thinking by asking students to talk through their problem-solving process.

“We are pleased to congratulate Dr. Sandefur on this important and well-deserved recognition of his work,” says Chester Gillis, interim Georgetown College dean and professor of theology. “Throughout his time at Georgetown University, Dr. Sandefur has investigated how students learn best and has tailored his teaching to respond to the preferences and impediments of his students.”

Sandefur’s research interests include mathematics education at secondary and college levels, differential equations, and discrete dynamical systems. He has written nearly 40 mathematics papers and is author of “Discrete Dynamical Systems: Theory and Applications,” “Discrete Dynamical Modeling” and “Elementary Mathematical Modeling: A Dynamic Approach.”

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