48 Defining Characteristics | Tom LoFaro

Eight years ago, when I interviewed for this position, a student asked me “why do you want to work at Gustavus?”  The response was easy and immediate:  “why did you choose to attend Gustavus?”  I then explained how I wanted to teach at a school with a sense of community, a place where faculty and students are involved in both academic and social issues.  In the time since that first visit to this campus, I have come to believe that one of the defining characteristics of this campus is its sense of community.

The Gustavus Adolphus College Mission and Core Values Statement defines our sense of community.  It asserts that we continually strive to be a community that seeks excellence and nurtures talents.  It asks us to continually assess our teaching methods and develop innovative methodologies while retaining those techniques and ideas that work.  It demands us to respect all members of the community and to engage the local and global community in ways that foster respect, leadership, and caring.

I hope that in the preceding sections I have made it abundantly clear that not only do I seek excellence in my teaching and research but that I instill in my students the same level of enthusiasm, excitement, and determination.  In advanced mathematics courses I strive to provide my students with an in-depth understanding of the material that allows them to appreciate the beauty and depth of the material.  In introductory courses my excitement about the material is also clearly evident.  I strive to demonstrate not only the power of mathematics, but also the importance and utility of the problem-solving thought processes that can be developed and refined by solving complex mathematical problems.  I chose to become the Director of the Rydell Professor Program primarily because I believe this program provides our community with the opportunity to engage in a meaningful and profound way with people whose work exemplifies excellence.

I have consistently refined my teaching methods and have introduced innovative courses and materials to the mathematics curriculum both here at Gustavus and throughout my discipline.  The projects I’ve authored are the most visible form of innovation as these have been published on the web, in textbooks, and on CDs.  But there is other, less visible, evidence of innovation.  The use of software such as Maple in most every class I teach and the planning of an active-learning classroom in the MCS department are two such examples.

I have consistently involved myself in activities that foster respect, leadership, and caring in our community.  When serving on Judicial Boards, or hosting international students, or taking incoming freshman to the Boundary Waters, I have used these opportunities to serve as catalysts for growth for both the students and myself.  My favorite memory of my first Freshman Wilderness Experience trip embodies the personal and communal growth I hope to foster.  Our first several portages were a mess.  It seemed it took longer to decide who was going to carry what than it did to carry everything over the portage.  On the second day out, on arriving at yet another portage, several of the students suggested a division of the packs and canoes so that the two people in each canoe could be responsible solely for their canoe and the things it carried.  We had heavy packs and light packs, backpacks and Duluth packs, heavy canoes and light canoes.  Yet the assignment of packs to canoes was flawless.  This was remarkable.  But what made it even more satisfying is a picture I took on a long portage of a student with one pack strapped to her back, a second pack strapped in front, paddles in each hand, and a smile of triumph across her face!  She double-packed so that her partner need only carry the canoe on what would be a long portage.

When I came to Gustavus I knew I needed to work in a community that cherished ideals such as these.  After nine years on this campus I realize that this institution has instilled in me a greater understanding of what it means to be an active participant in a community and I hope that in the years to come this level of involvement will continue to grow.

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