April 24, 2009
Sam Kaplan, one of UNC Asheville's most respected professors, was named today as a recipient of the Award for Excellence in Teaching from the University of North Carolina's Board of Governors. Kaplan, associate professor of mathematics, was nominated by a committee of UNC Asheville faculty. He will receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a $7,500 cash prize.
Kaplan, who holds a doctorate from Boston University, joined the UNC Asheville faculty in 1999. He immediately became respected by both students and faculty colleagues for being an outstanding professor.
Recently, Kaplan has also devoted his time to creating and launching the Asheville Initiative in Mathematics (AIM), a program that connects UNC Asheville's Mathematics Department with local communities. The group, which includes regional teachers and community members, has received $925,000 in grants and is hard at work on several projects, including a tutor training program and an annual Math Literacy Summit.
"I hope that my excitement and activities inspire my students to view math as a fun and important endeavor," said Kaplan. "In the classroom I have learned that teaching is about providing experiences for the students that help them grow as scholars, master material and build a positive perspective on the craft of mathematics. Always, it is a pleasure to take on this challenge."
UNC Asheville Mathematics Department Chair Dave Peifer, who works closely with Kaplan, has ready praise for just how he takes on the challenge. "Sam has several attributes that make him a great teacher. Of these, the most significant is his devotion and true compassion for his students." said Peifer. "As with many educators, Sam believes that education and the pursuit of truth and knowledge will profoundly help his students in many aspects of their professional and personal lives."
In their end-of-semester evaluations, students consistently praise Kaplan for his ability to explain difficult material, his enthusiasm, and the way in which he organizes each course. In addition to lectures, he engages students in group work and oral presentations. By providing students with a variety of tools and immersing them in different settings to solve problems, he is able to effectively reach a broad range of skill levels.
UNC Asheville junior Sadie Ferguson, who aspires to be a teacher, appreciates Kaplan's approach in the classroom. "While effectively and efficiently teaching difficult material, he makes the lessons relevant to our lives and goals in education," she said. "Dr. Kaplan encourages us to continually think, learn, solve and hypothesize about all questions we encounter."
Kaplan applies this same philosophy to his own life. In addition to teaching in the Mathematics Department, he has taught two Humanities course, a class on Jewish women, a colloquium on mathematics and social justice, and a master's of liberal arts course.
Kaplan's love for his subject matter and devotion to scholarship has motivated student to undertake undergraduate research projects. During the past 10 years, Kaplan has directed original research projects for 20 students in topics ranging from geometry of atonal music to celestial mechanics.
Students attest that he's able to make such abstract topics come to life.
"Dr. Kaplan is a wonderful teacher who knows how to relate material to students," said senior mathematics major Benjamin Filip. "He always pushes us to do better, and through that Dr. Kaplan makes this University a better place."