Math Professor Awarded for Hard Work and Research

Christopher Murphy

Professor Ondrus is the recipient of The Mathematical Association of America Intermountain Section Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. (Gabe Cerritos / The Signpost)
Professor Ondrus is the recipient of The Mathematical Association of America Intermountain Section Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. (Gabe Cerritos / The Signpost)

Matthew Ondrus, Weber State math professor, is the winner of The Mathematical Association of America Intermountain Section Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. Ondrus received the award after being nominated by another math professor, A. Ghoreishi, according to Debi Larson, an administrative specialist for the math department. Ondrus was selected for this award based on his “exemplary record as a teacher, his service to his students, the mathematical community and his academic research,” Danae Romrell, MAA Intermountain Section secretary and treasurer, said. “He told me he was nominating me, but I was still really caught off guard to receive the award,” Ondrus said. “In almost any setting where my teaching was successful, it ultimately depended on the fact that my students worked really hard and were very patient with me.” Ondrus described that he first became interested in math in his high school and college years. “In college, I had the chance to be a math tutor,” Ondrus said. “And I realized I enjoyed trying to help others learn the subject.” As a graduate student, Ondrus said he knew it was going to be tough. Ondrus described his peers as “superhuman” compared to his own abilities. However, after years of six-hour math tests and conducting original mathematic research the effort paid off. “The process, in particular the struggle, is a big part of why we do it. The final product is nice, but it is the pain and suffering along the way where the actual learning happens,” Ondrus said. At Weber State, Ondrus keeps his math career going thanks in part to his colleagues and his students. “My department is full of outstanding teachers, and I am fortunate to work in a department that has given me a lot of flexibility to experiment, make mistakes, and learn from my mistakes,” Ondrus said. He said that he makes it a point to be available to help his students whenever it’s possible for him. “And usually, it’s about the best part of my day,” Ondrus said. “It (helping students) challenges me and I often learn a lot from my students,” Ondrus said. Ondrus recently spent a year-long sabbatical in New York working with some colleagues researching lie algebra. Ondrus explained that lie algebra was named after the Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie and that a key element of it is an approach to the study of symmetry from an algebraic viewpoint. This type of math may have no practical use and is being done just for the sake of math, according to Ondrus. “My motivation is mainly to know what happens and why it happens,” Ondrus said. “And in mathematics and other areas of science, some pretty practical discoveries have happened when people have had the luxury of approaching science that way.” Although Ondrus actually received the award earlier this year, it has yet to be added to the list of winners on the MAA website. Larson took the initiative and posted about the award on the math department’s Facebook page around the end of October. “You know what, we need to brag more about our faculty and our department, “ said Larson. “Because we just quietly do this stuff and we don’t brag and we don’t put it out there and I thought, you know what we need to.”