Robert Chaney - Student Introduction

Remarks by Andy Heeze
Former student of  Robert Chaney
2013 Outstanding Community Colleges Professor of the Year

One quality that makes a great teacher is the ability to gauge the student’s understanding, requiring the ability to sense what others are feeling.

This is a tall order in a classroom full of students while lecturing, performing calculus, walking about and discussing mathematical history. Somehow, Professor Chaney is able to determine what even a single student may be non-verbally expressing, thereby reading when a class is engaged or when a student is falling behind.

As an engineer, I marvel at his ability to process the various signals his students radiate while continuously testing said signals against his own experiences. Upon noting a student falling behind, my professor would not give that one student up easily; he would redouble his efforts to bring him or her back on board.

Throughout life, this is the crossroads: why bore the larger group who are adequately following along to pick up the much smaller group who did not follow? Professor Chaney gracefully manages this crossroads by reiterating the material such that some will come to understand the material, and some will have their understanding reinforced and strengthened—all benefit, none are bored.

Critically important, student interest is sustained through infectious enthusiasm, a great sense of humor and by using creative real-life examples and experiments, effectively answering that eternal math question: "When will I ever use this?”

He also retains interest through his true genius as a teacher, which I have saved to lastly discuss. It is a simple concept with resounding depth; he never answers a question with the answer. In our society of opinions and uncertainty, answers are so valuable, but when you provide somebody with an answer, it is at that moment that a person stops thinking about the question and begins thinking about the implications of the answer.

The professor wants students to have the answer, but he exerts great restraint and patience to not provide it. Instead, he hints, guides, eases, prompts and encourages toward the answer; never allowing frustration to build. As such, the student’s mind must probe, search, question, adapt and ultimately, learn the answer. This provides a depth of neural activity surrounding the learning event, engraining memories in a student’s mind.

I recall such an event 10 years ago in calculus class: mathematicians divided irregular areas into ever-smaller sections, getting a very good approximation of an answer. One day, they realized that dividing by infinitesimally small sections, the approximation became an exact answer. This realization led to the industrial revolution. And the teaching of it led me to understand calculus and become an engineer.

I hope you have an understanding of why this gentleman is here now. It is my honor to introduce Professor Robert Chaney.