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Getting and inspiring a beautiful answer

Some people just don’t seem to realize the impact they have on others — until they are hit over the head with it.

“I’ve been in kind of a stunned state (since the announcement of the award), but it is a fun place to be!” said Duane DeTemple, professor of mathematics, Honors College teacher and Sahlin Faculty Excellence Award recipient for Instruction. 

Like many great teachers, DeTemple met a few along the way who inspired him.

“One of my favorite professors at Stanford had an interest in education,” he said. “George Polya’s lectures were incredibly creative — he made everyone feel totally involved in what he was doing.” 

DeTemple’s appreciation for this mentor is evident today as he displays one of Polya’s books — an autographed copy.

De Temple joined the WSU faculty in 1970, beginning a career that would produce many papers, presentations and textbooks. However, students say it is his ability to present mathematics in ways that engage struggling or disinterested learners that makes DeTemple stand out in the minds of his students and peers. 

“Kids start out liking math, but it slowly becomes socially unacceptable to like it as they grow older,” said DeTemple. “Teachers need to be more aware of what’s coming down the line.” 

So what’s a university mathematics professor to do? Make class interactive and engaging.

“Not a week goes by in his classes where students are not completing hands-on activities, working with others to discover new concepts or demonstrating their math knowledge to others,” said Katie Estes, a senior mathematics undergraduate. “Dr. DeTemple takes learning to a new level, challenging students to think critically about the material, while supporting them in each task.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, DeTemple’s wife also is a teacher, as are his two daughters — all of whom, he says, are “more interesting than I am.” 

While DeTemple is a treasure in the mathematics department, he originally studied to become an engineer. But he returned to school when he missed the youthful environment of a university. 

“It took a while to choose mathematics instead of engineering,” said DeTemple. “I am intrigued by the aesthetic values of mathematics; it is all about getting a beautiful answer.”

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