Alex Powell Receives Nordhaus Award for Teaching
Associate Professor Alex Powell is the recipient of the 2012 Jeffrey Nordhaus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. This is the first time since the award was established in 1982 that a Department of Mathematics faculty member has received it.
Powell received his B.S. from Rutgers University in 1997 with a double major in electrical engineering and mathematics. He obtained his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Maryland in 2003 under the supervision of Dr. John Benedetto. Following a two-year postdoc position at Princeton University, he joined the Vanderbilt Department of Mathematics in 2005 as an assistant professor and was promoted in 2012 to associate professor with tenure.
Powell has taught a variety of undergraduate courses at Vanderbilt, including Complex Variables, Probability, Methods of Ordinary Differential Equations, Differential Equations with Linear Algebra, and Multivariable Calculus. He has also taught two graduate courses: Seminar in Analysis, which focused on random matrix theory, and Real Analysis. He receives consistently strong teaching evaluations from students.
Powell’s effectiveness as an instructor is a result of his carefully considered teaching philosophy. He strives to create a positive atmosphere in which students feel involved and comfortable asking questions, and he makes himself available to work with students outside of class.
His instructional technique also helps explain his success. “I believe that learning mathematics depends on understanding ideas in general terms as well as being able to perform the calculations. When introducing a new concept in class, I first try to explain it and what makes it important without going into technical details, and I start with very simple examples. Then I cover the technical aspects behind it and proceed by working out calculations.”
When not teaching, Powell is actively involved in research. His research interests are in applied, computational, and pure harmonic analysis and in signal processing and mathematical data analysis. He has received three National Science Foundation grants, is author or co-author of 19 papers, has given numerous invited talks, and has organized several conferences and workshops.
“Alex is one of the department’s most productive researchers as well as one of our best teachers,” says Department Chair Dietmar Bisch. “He is very deserving of this award.”
The Jeffrey Nordhaus Award was established in 1982 by a gift from Katherine Stumb Nordhaus and George Nordhaus in memory of their son, Jeffrey, victim of an airplane crash in 1979. Nominations are reviewed and ranked by student members of Phi Beta Kappa, after which the dean selects a winner.
More information about Powell, including a list of his publications, is available on his web site: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/math/people/powell.