Texas A&M mathematician Dr. Jennifer G. Whitfield ’00 is one of five university faculty members who have been appointed to 2022 University Professorships in Undergraduate Teaching Excellence (UPUTE) at Texas A&M University.
Whitfield, an instructional associate professor in the Department of Mathematics, will hold one of two Eppright Professorships in Undergraduate Teaching Excellence, a three-year appointment that carries an annual stipend and bursary to support her teaching program and related professional development.
Whitfield and her fellow 2022-2025 UPUTE honorees — Texas A&M industrial and systems engineering professor and 2022-2025 Kincaid Professor Dr. Alaa Elwany, Texas A&M teaching, learning and culture professor and 2022-2025 Thaman Professor Dr. Sharon Matthews, Texas A&M veterinary integrative biosciences professor and 2022-2025 Eppright Professor Dr. Michelle Pine and Texas A&M philosophy and humanities professor and 2022-2025 Thaman Professor Dr. Linda Radzik — were formally recognized Wednesday (May 4) during the final afternoon session of the 2022 Transformational Teaching and Learning Conference, presented by the Office of Faculty Affairs in partnership with the Center for Teaching Excellence and the Office for Academic Innovation.
The prestigious UPUTE awards are reserved for the university’s most distinguished teachers of undergraduates — faculty who have exhibited uncommon excellence and devotion to the education of undergraduate students at Texas A&M. The professorships are made possible through generous endowments by George and Irma Eppright, John Kincaid, and Arthur J. and Wilhelmina Doré Thaman.
“Texas A&M is known for its excellence in undergraduate education, and appointment of these professorship holders is intended to both recognize and support that dedication to undergraduate education,” said Texas A&M Interim Provost and Executive Vice President Timothy P. Scott ’89.
Whitfield joined the Texas A&M Mathematics faculty in 2001 as a senior lecturer after earning her master’s of science in mathematics from Texas A&M in 2000. She has served as an assistant head of the department assisting with teaching operations since 2017, the same year she completed her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with a focus on mathematics education at Texas A&M. Earlier this spring, she was promoted to instructional professor, effective September 1. Prior to coming to Texas A&M, Whitfield was a mathematics teacher at both College Station and Bryan High Schools.
During the past two decades, Whitfield has impacted the lives of tens of thousands of Texas A&M STEM students, not only as a mathematics professor and administrator, but also as a director of the Texas A&M STEM Teacher Preparation Academy and as program manager for aggieTEACH. She is renowned throughout her department and across the Texas A&M campus for her expertise in calculus, ability to effectively communicate mathematics, devotion to students, success in engaging large student audiences and long-standing reputation for excellent teaching. In addition, she has chaired 19 masters’ committees and served as a member on 27 other graduate student committees.
“The art of teaching is in how to engage the audience,” said Texas A&M mathematician Dr. William Rundell, who served as head of Texas A&M Mathematics from 1992 to 2002. “If you have ever seen an instructor in a 100-plus sized, obviously freshman calculus class, walking around the room while slides come and go on the screen and are annotated from her iPad as she asks students by name a question, then you have likely watched Jennifer in action. She tries to remember the names of at least one-fourth to one-third of the class within the ﬁrst two weeks of the semester. It is an all-action performance, and any student who dared switch off would be the recipient of the next question. If you managed to look up the end-of-semester evaluations, you would see near-unanimously excellent student reviews, and if you looked at the grade distributions, you would ﬁnd them to be very close to the average.”
Whitfield’s research focuses on secondary mathematics teacher preparation and the effects of scholarships for high school science and mathematics teachers. She recently played a lead role in redesigning the format and curriculum of two of the department’s most in-demand calculus classes, MATH 140 and MATH 142, to help improve the student experience and student success rates in these courses. She also helped lead efforts to implement Open Education Resource (OER) efforts in both courses.
Beyond classroom prowess, Whitfield has a long history of external attracting funding for pedagogical research and teaching materials production. To date, she has served as the principal investigator or co-principal investigator on nearly 30 awards from the National Science Foundation and other agencies totaling more than $6 million to benefit teacher training and course development.
“The level of sustained funding here is quite extraordinary and has been matched with an extensive publication record,” Rundell said. “These efforts have engaged many of the department’s teaching faculty, and this in turn has helped build expertise that has translated into both productive careers and enhanced teaching awareness for many of our faculty.”
Thus far in her career, Whitfield has been recognized with numerous awards, including Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Awards in Teaching at both the university (2022) and college levels (2021), the Texas A&M Department of Teaching, Learning and Culture’s Distinguished Ph.D. Honor Graduate Award (2017), induction into the Texas A&M University System Chancellor’s Academy of Teacher Educators (2014), the Texas A&M College of Education and Human Development’s John E. Trott Jr. Award in Student Recruiting (2012), Who’s Who in America (2012), the Texas A&M System’s Student Led Award for Teaching Excellence (2009) and both teaching and service awards from Texas A&M Mathematics. In addition, she was honored in 2013 by the Texas A&M student body as a Fish Camp namesake.
While mentoring and course development are two consistent pillars of Whitfield’s professorial efforts, she credits inclusive teaching and a related mantra — we teach students, not subjects — as the biggest key to her own success as well as that of her students and colleagues. She plans to use her UPUTE funding to continue working with the Center for Teaching Excellence to develop and promote inclusive teaching strategies for faculty across campus. She also intends to work with the Texas A&M Math Learning Center to help increase access to high-quality learning materials, help students learn how to become independent learners and help create more equitable learning opportunities in mathematics for students by producing asynchronous videos that students can access anytime via the Texas A&M Virtual Math Learning Center.
“Bringing together university faculty from different colleges and departments to regularly reflect on their teaching and providing them the opportunity to examine their own thoughts, beliefs and behaviors can help faculty better understand how to create a more inclusive classroom environment,” Whitfield said. “One’s teaching practice is always evolving. We should never be done learning about our own craft of teaching, and we will never have a ‘final’ product.
“Teacher development is an iterative process where one is required to engage infinitely many times. It is this attitude that I will bring to the UPUTE professorship and not only share my experiences to help motivate and encourage others to think about and improve their teaching, but also use it as an opportunity to network and learn from other colleagues outside my department to improve my own teaching.”
Learn more about Whitfield and her teaching, research and service efforts.
For additional information on University Professorships for Undergraduate Teaching, go to the Office of Faculty Affairs website.