CSU-Pueblo math professor earns regional teaching honor


A faculty member at CSU-Pueblo recently became the first recipient from the university of the Burton Jones Award for Distinguished Teaching. 

The award, which recognizes extraordinary teachers of mathematics at the post-secondary level, will be presented by the Rocky Mountain Section of the Mathematical Association of America in Denver, April 13.

Associate Professor Janet Nichols was selected for the award among nominees from across Colorado, South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana. Math department Chairman Frank Zizza and mathematics professor Janet Barnett were responsible for organizing the nomination, Nichols said. Originally, she was surprised by the nomination, she said.

“I didn’t know that my department chair, Dr. Frank Zizza, and a colleague, Dr. Janet Barnett, had put together a dossier and sent it forward,” Nichols said. “I am very humbled by this award. To be recognized by your colleagues is a humbling experience.” 

Nichols’ teaching evaluations reveal high marks for her “making good use of class time, encouraging critical thinking, maintaining high standards and being available for assistance outside of class,” Zizza said.

Former students also often refer to her as “the best teacher they ever had,” he said.

Current students are attracted in large numbers to Nichols’ classes.

“She is sought after by students across a wide variety of courses,” Barnett said.

Nichols’ contribution to the CSU-Pueblo math department and community has extended beyond the classroom, as well. She worked for 34 years coordinating Math Day every fall, co-facilitated adoptions of new math and science standards in local schools and worked on a team that earned a $1.26 million grant to strengthen mathematics achievement and encourage new teaching professionals, she said.

“The most rewarding experience is seeing growth in students,” Nichols said. “Being able to contribute to their excitement in learning and see them achieve their goals is an amazing experience.”

Nichols is also chair of the Curriculum and Academic Programs Board and the program coordinator of the Noyce Scholars Program.  She received the 2011 Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching at CSU-Pueblo for her many contributions to the university.

Among her other accomplishments, Nichols earned her undergraduate degree at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y. She earned her master’s degree in mathematics from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., while working as a graduate teaching assistant.

“During my years as a graduate teaching assistant, I found joy in teaching,” Nichols said. “I felt that I could reach my students.”

After marrying, Nichols moved to Colorado with her husband so he could attend school at CSU-Fort Collins, she said. After completing his degree, her husband secured a position in Cañon City, Colo., and she was offered a job teaching at the University of Southern Colorado soon after.

“I have been here ever since,” Nichols said. “It’s an extremely rewarding profession.”

The Rocky Mountain Section Award is named in honor of Burton W. Jones, an advocate of excellence in teaching and a strong supporter of the MAA, according to information found on the award website.