For Immediate Release – October 21, 2003


GENESEO, N.Y. – Olympia Nicodemi, professor of mathematics at the State University of New York at Geneseo, has earned the Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. The MAA considers the Tepper Haimo Award its highest teaching honor, and Nicodemi’s receipt of the award makes Geneseo one of only five institutions of higher education in the nation with more than one faculty member holding the distinction.

Gary Towsley, distinguished teaching professor of mathematics at Geneseo, received the Tepper Haimo Award in 2000.

The Tepper Haimo Award was established in 1991 by the MAA to honor college or university teachers who have been widely recognized as extraordinarily successful and whose teaching effectiveness has been shown to have had influence beyond their own institutions. The MAA is the largest professional society in the country that focuses on undergraduate mathematics education, and espouses as its mission the desire to "advance the mathematical sciences, especially at the collegiate level."

"Dr. Nicodemi represents all that is good about mathematics teaching," said Geneseo Distinguished Teaching Professor of Mathematics Steve West. "She is a wonderful teacher who imparts an appreciation for her discipline while demanding the highest standards of rigor; she is a tireless champion of her students whether they are in her classes or young college faculty in the MAA Project Next Program; and she is highly committed to serving her profession, the college and the department."

The Tepper Haimo Award is given each year to, at most, three individuals. Nicodemi will receive her award at the winter joint meeting of the American Mathematical Society and the MAA in Phoenix in January, and will give an invited talk at that meeting on the subject of her mathematics teaching.

"This is an enormous honor," Nicodemi said. "This recognition is coming from a group that is dedicated to fostering excellence in college teaching, and the bar is set pretty high there."

Nicodemi just this spring earned the 2003 Distinguished Teaching Award from the MAA’s Seaway Section. The names of section award winners are forwarded each year to the MAA national nominating committee for the Tepper Haimo Award.

"This award is not just for me, but for the incredible teaching culture we have at Geneseo," Nicodemi said. "Academic endeavors at the college are wonderfully supported, from the top down. It’s just the way we do things here." Nicodemi has been teaching at Geneseo since 1981.

She credits her department chairs Don Trasher (emeritus) and Steve West for allowing her the freedom to pursue her teaching methods. "I’ve pushed the margins of my department, and the things I’ve put forward have always been supported," she said. "My teaching is not particularly experimental, per se, but what it does is change every day in response to my students."

Nicodemi’s dedication and talents as a teacher, advisor and mentor have been previously recognized by SUNY; in 1994, she received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. In 2000 she was selected by the New York State Grand Lodge as the recipient of the Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Award, which recognizes outstanding Italian-American women in education for their significant contributions to their profession and their communities. The award is named for the first woman in history to receive a Ph.D. Cornaro earned her doctorate from the University of Padua, Italy, in 1678.

Nicodemi has enjoyed teaching the academically talented students who enroll at Geneseo. "I have always found that Geneseo students are well prepared, and give back tenfold what you give to them," she said. "I have always found our students to be bright and recipient, and they work with what we give them and do great things with that. I still like to work with them from where they are, and take them some place else. I don’t want to overwhelm them; my goal is to bring them into complexity with comfort."

Many of Nicodemi’s students go into teaching at the secondary level. "I, and my colleagues, want to be role models for them, because it’s such an important job out there," she said. "One of the things I try to model is flexibility. I try to show the joy of the activity (of teaching), and my students know I’m having fun out there at the same time."

Despite her more than 20 years at Geneseo, Nicodemi said she is always learning new things, whether about mathematics, students or teaching. "I’m so happy here, because I have interests that are diverse, yet I get to take those same interests and act on them. That kind of activity is actually supported here, and that’s incredible to me."

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