The Alumni Council presented the 2019 Rassias Award to Professor of Mathematics Dorothy Wallace. The award, granted to a faculty member each year during a Council meeting in Hanover, recognizes exceptional educational outreach to alumni. Wallace accepted the award at the 218th meeting of the Council this spring.
If you graduated feeling confident you’d taken your last math class, Wallace—who has been giving lectures on Alumni Travel trips for the past 15 years—might convince you otherwise.
Wrangling equations on a dusty chalkboard may not be your thing. But what about decoding Moorish tile patterns in southern Spain? Or learning about Galileo in Florence?
“Math is everywhere,” Wallace says—and during alumni excursions spanning the globe from Greece to Iceland to Australia, she’s proven it by bringing math to life on location.
For instance, Wallace remembers teaching alumni how to classify patterns before a visit to Spain’s Alhambra palace. The group was so fixated on finding patterns in the tiles that they stopped listening to their tour guide. “It was really fun—we turned the whole day into a puzzle,” she says. “The professional guide was talking about the history of the Alhambra, but everyone was just facing the wall!”
The professor has earned plenty of accolades throughout her 30-year career with Dartmouth, from being named New Hampshire’s CASE Professor of the Year in 2000, to receiving the Dartmouth Graduate Faculty Mentoring Award in 2005 and Dean of the Faculty Mentoring Award in 2014. But the Alumni Council award, named in honor of Dartmouth’s pioneering professor of language John Rassias, stands out.
“It was very cool to get an award named after someone who actually affected me,” Wallace says. For years, the mathematics department used videos of Rassias’ language lessons as the basis for discussions of pedagogy with math graduate students. Known for his energetic, immersive demeanor, Rassias displayed the benefits of asking questions and facilitating student participation. “I learned quite a bit from him, and it changed how I taught,” she adds.
The Rassias Award was established in 2017. Each year, with input from Alumni Relations and the Dean of the Faculty, the Alumni Council’s Academic Affairs Committee narrows down candidates based on a range of criteria, including the scope and depth of contribution to alumni. Past recipients have included Don Pease and Steve Swayne (2017), as well as Susan Ackerman and Vicki May (2018).
“Professor Wallace was a standout candidate, in part because of her commitment to connecting with alumni throughout her career,” says Brandi Johnson ’01, chair of the Academic Affairs Committee. “We were impressed by her ability to make complex subject matter accessible for alumni of varying academic backgrounds and their families.”
For her part, Wallace feels fortunate to have accompanied alumni around the world. “It’s been really wonderful hanging out with alumni and relaxing in different places,” she says. “I’ve been lucky.”