SF State mathematician named one of nation's top educators

Matthias Beck receives prestigious award from the Mathematical Association of America


SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 4, 2013 -- San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Mathematics Matthias Beck has been named one of the nation's top math educators by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).

A photo of SF State Associate Professor of Mathematics Matthias Beck.Beck is one of only three mathematicians nationwide to receive the MAA's prestigious Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. The award is given annually to college and university faculty members with an extraordinary record of successful teaching and whose influence has been felt beyond their institutions.

"Professor Beck is not only an outstanding teacher but also has a distinguished record of scholarly research," said Dean of Science & Engineering Sheldon Axler. "He is yet another example that our best teachers are usually our best researchers, and vice versa."

Beck has dedicated his career to preparing students to effectively teach math at the primary, secondary or higher education level. At SF State, he is known both as a tireless student mentor and for his ability to teach subjects ranging from teacher preparation to such complex mathematical concepts as combinatorics and polytopes. His own research involves discrete and computational geometry and analytical number theory, and he is the author of two textbooks for intermediate and advanced undergraduate students.

As part of his efforts to train future math teachers, Beck has received a National Science Foundation grant that provides scholarships for up to nine students each year, allowing them to focus on their studies while also volunteering in high school classrooms. Fourteen out of the 16 students who received scholarships during the program's first two years subsequently received funding for doctoral studies.

Beck's work in the community includes directing San Francisco Math Circle, an enrichment program for sixth- through 11th-grade public school students aimed at motivating them to excel in mathematics and encouraging them to consider a career in the field. SF State students, through a community service-learning course taught by Beck, are trained to lead Math Circle sessions, giving them valuable real-world classroom teaching experience.

Students also are actively involved in Beck's research; 11 of his research papers published since 2008 feature student co-authors. He has advised 20 master's students at SF State and, through a partnership with the University of California, three doctoral students.

"Professor Beck is not only a talented mathematician but also a great human being who inspired me to see myself as a researcher and not just a student," said Anastasia Chavez, a former student of Beck's who is now in a doctoral program at the University of California, Berkeley. "I was juggling motherhood and my master's program and was fortunate to have an advisor who believed in balancing your career with your personal life. That support gave me confidence as I worked toward finishing my degree and applying to Berkeley."

Beck has been a faculty member at SF State since 2004. He earned a degree in mathematics and a teaching credential for high school mathematics and physics from the Universität Würzburg in Germany in 1997 and a doctorate in mathematics from Temple University in 2000.

The Mathematics Department at SF State has a distinguished history of student and faculty excellence. Nearly two-thirds of master's students go on to doctoral programs at institutions such as the UC Berkeley, the University of California, San Francisco, the University of Michigan, M.I.T. and Cornell University. The faculty includes two recipients of the Lester Ford Award and four NSF CAREER grant recipients. Faculty members work in such fields as combinatorics, DNA topology, math education, dynamics and ergodic theory, and wavelets and frames. Earlier this summer, President Barack Obama named Associate Professor Mariel Vazquez one of the nation's most promising young scientists for her pioneering work in DNA topology, and in November Professor Sheldon Axler was named an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society.

The MAA will present this year's Haimo Award recipients at its Jan. 9-12 meeting in San Diego.




SF State is the only master's-level public university serving the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. The University enrolls nearly 30,000 students each year and offers nationally acclaimed programs in a range of fields -- from creative writing, cinema and biology to history, broadcast and electronic communication arts, theatre arts and ethnic studies. The University’s more than 212,000 graduates have contributed to the economic, cultural and civic fabric of San Francisco and beyond.