Denison University honored an outstanding professor with the prestigious Charles A. Brickman Teaching Excellence Award at the college’s Faculty Awards Celebration held on Friday, May 7. Matt Neal, professor of mathematics, computer science, and data analytics, was honored with the 2021 Brickman award, which is given to members of the faculty who are master craftsmen in the profession and models of dedication to students and to student learning. The recipient has demonstrated a vibrant interest in the learning process, as well as an understanding of teaching as a continuously evolving art form.
Speaking of Neal, Denison Provost Kim Coplin noted, “Matt Neal’s teaching focuses on the process of creating questions, solving problems, and inspiring students to be comfortable in taking risks. He teaches across all levels in his home department and also served as one of the architects of the new major program, Data Analytics, and its curriculum. Matt’s pedagogy celebrates the “chaotic and collaborative” path of problem-solving, teaching students that discovering unanticipated tangents may ultimately be more valuable than the pursuit of concrete solutions. This is reflected in a new course he developed which aims to ‘interpret messy and poorly-posed real-world problems.’ In his leadership in establishing Data Analytics, he worked tirelessly to develop relationships and arrange internships for students. His teaching in the program emphasizes active learning, compelling students to immerse in topics including the “right to privacy, issues of social justice, how to honestly report data analysis, and how to think about the consequences of wielding the power to predict people’s behavior.” Throughout all of this work, Matt has constructed a pedagogy that is built on guiding students through “the discomfort and rewards of learning mathematics.”
Neal joined Denison in 2001. He holds a B.A. (Mathematics and History) and a Ph.D., from the University of Virginia. Neal’s research foci are operator algebras and statistical modeling. Operator algebras represent the basic observables of the universe, like energy and momentum. Although his work is theoretical, the problems he solves are motivated by probabilistic questions in quantum mechanics. His statistical work is concerned with player evaluation in the NBA.