Dr. Dan Yasaki will tell you mathematics is a study of patterns. His students, peers, and superiors in the College of Arts and Sciences saw a pattern of incredible education at UNC Greensboro, which led to him receiving the UNC Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching Award for the 2022-23 year.
Their evaluations and letters of recommendation highlight his methods of breaking down complex questions, sharing his enthusiasm for learning, and connecting classwork with real-world applications.
“Dan came to UNCG in 2008 and has had great success in helping students be successful in the classroom, guiding student research at all levels, and helped countless students achieve their academic and professional goals,” says Dr. Ratnasingham Shivaji, Helen Barton Excellence Professor of Mathematics. “He’s had a transformational impact on the mathematics curriculum of our department.”
One of Yasaki’s principles is to “demystify” mathematics, and that plays out in the way he builds each topic off of the previous discussion. “Seeing the concepts grow from a few definitions shows them that math is not an arbitrary collection of confusing rules,” he says, “But rather the natural extension of a few key ideas.”
Yasaki tailors his instruction based on student feedback, as demonstrated when he began sharing the lecture material beforehand so the students could spend their time in the classroom doing more discussion and analysis, a method known as the “flipped model.” He describes the atmosphere of his Ph.D.-level Modern Abstract Algebra II course as “colleagues collaborating on research” rather than “students taking a class.”
Ph.D. student Kalani Thalagoda’s first class with Yasaki was a critical one, in which she needed to pass her qualifying exam to remain in the graduate program. His investment in his students’ success meant all the more to her, and his proactive, positive approach allayed any of her own anxiety.
“Dan promotes a growth mindset in and outside class,” she says. “If you know Dan well, you will wear comfortable shoes to his office hours, because he does not let you stay seated for long. He will pick up a marker and hand it to you. Then we will tackle the problem together.”
His adaptability also benefits students at the undergraduate level, as shown when he helped redesign Calculus with Business Applications. The students who take the course come predominantly from the Bryan School of Business and Economics, and it helps them frame concepts within situations related to cost, revenue, and profit.
In 2017, Yasaki joined the UNC System Math Pathways Project to address the issues that impede student success in mathematics.
Dr. Michelle Solér with the UNC System’s Division of Academic Affairs thanks Yasaki for helping other faculty adapt to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. She says, “He is a thoughtfully spoken, driven, knowledgeable, and authentic colleague, who well represents UNC System faculty across multiple projects, efforts, and venues.”
The Teaching Awards were established in 1994 to underscore the importance of teaching and to encourage, identify, recognize, reward, and support good teaching within the University.
Story by Janet Imrick, University Communications
Photography by Bryan Higgins, University Teaching and Learning Commons