Newswise — Long before reformers started clamoring for educators to focus mathematics courses on problem-solving, to equip students to interrogate realistic situations rather than running them through endless arithmetic drills, Joan Leitzel had conceived of—and implemented—these strategies.

For "her far-sighted work on creating programs to decrease the need for remediation in colleges and for her leadership on the national level" Leitzel received the Mathematical Association of America’s Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore, Maryland, on January 15-18.

Named for a husband and wife pair of non-mathematicians who regarded mathematics as "the most vital field of study in the technological age we are living in," the Gung and Hu is the most prestigious service award bestowed by the MAA.

Leitzel's career took her from Ohio State to University of Nebraska to University of New Hampshire, and back to Ohio State again. She developed a remedial math course that didn't just repeat high school material. She crafted programs to improve teacher preparation and better coordinate the mathematical transition from high school to college. Leitzel collected data on the effectiveness of her initiatives, making evidence-based modifications before the practice was de rigueur.

Leitzel has served the mathematical community at the National Science Foundation, the American Association for Higher Education, and the Conference Board of the Mathematical Sciences, to name but a few of the committees, panels, and institutions that have benefitted from her investment of time and energy. At the end of her six-year tenure as president of the University of New Hampshire, the Joan and James Leitzel Center for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Education was established in honor of Leitzel and her late husband.

"A consistent theme of Joan's career has been finding creative ways to improve student learning of mathematics, including improvement of pre-college teaching," reads Leitzel's award citation.

Reacting to the news that she had won the Gung and Hu, Leitzel stressed that the improvement efforts continue: "I now realize that although we may have accomplished some notable things in the 'service' area earlier in my career," she said, "today's problems are no easier and no less important than the ones we worked on then."

She continued: "So I am grateful for the range of efforts now underway within the MAA and across the fields of mathematics and mathematics education, and I am excited to continue to be a part of these."

More information can be found in the prize booklet.

About MAAThe Mathematical Association of America is the largest professional society that focuses on mathematics accessible at the undergraduate level. Formed in 1915, the association members include university, college, and high school teachers; graduate and undergraduate students; pure and applied mathematicians; computer scientists; statisticians; and many others in academia, government, business, and industry who are interested in the mathematical sciences.