EMU professor Daniel Showalter likes to start off the semester with a challenge for his students.
If any student in his class can find a topic they care about that he can’t apply to statistics, they win a clean, crisp $100 bill.
“It’s always fun,” Showalter said. “Students will write to me about something or another and I’ll show them some research paper that has been done related to that.”
To date, nobody has won his challenge, and there’s a good chance nobody ever will. It just goes to show how applicable statistics is to the world around us and to everyone in it. “Statistics is one of those areas that connects to every part of our life like faith, relationships, justice, mental health,” he said.
Whether it’s applying a statistical lens to childhood poverty, to racial discrimination in hiring or to the educational quality in rural school districts, Showalter strives to help his students connect with and care about statistics in a way that isn’t just about numbers and formulas. His class shows them how statistics can be used as a perspective to improve the quality of life and change the world.
Meeting his heroes
Now in his ninth year at EMU, Showalter, the program director for mathematics and computer science, is the recipient of next year’s Robert V. Hogg Award for Excellence in Teaching Introductory Statistics.
The national award is presented yearly by the Special Interest Group of the Mathematical Association of America on Statistics Education to someone who’s been teaching introductory statistics at the college level between three and 15 years and has “shown both excellence and growth in teaching during that time (SIGMAA).” Its namesake Robert Hogg was a professor of statistics at the University of Iowa and was well-known for his textbooks on statistics.
Showalter was nominated by his doctoral adviser Greg Foley, from Ohio University, for the award. He also submitted four letters of recommendation, including two from students, for consideration by the awards committee.
“The committee was impressed with your work in course design, your service to the community, and your impact on students,” a committee member wrote in an email to Showalter.
Past winners of the Hogg award include three statistics educators who are among Showalter’s biggest inspirations: Talithia Williams of Harvey Mudd College, Nathan Tintle of the University of Illinois Chicago, and Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel of Duke University.
“They have been some of my heroes, who have really shaped how I teach statistics and use personal, relevant data,” Showalter said.
The EMU professor will receive the Hogg award at the 2024 MathFest in Indianapolis in August. He said he looks forward to forging professional connections with past award winners as well as trading ideas with other statistics professors.
Along with the award comes a $500 prize. Showalter plans to use the money to invest in promoting the sharing of stories between EMU students, a topic he talked about in his baccalaureate speech this past spring.
‘Teach people, not statistics’
This isn’t the first award he’s received for his teaching.
Showalter was the 2021 recipient of the John M. Smith Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching, a regional math honor bestowed to professors who are “widely recognized as extraordinarily successful in their teaching.” Read more about that recognition in our writeup here.
He was the 2020 recipient of EMU’s Excellence in Teaching Award for tenured faculty. And, he’s received accolades from across the country for his work on a national policy report analyzing the contexts and conditions of rural education in each state.
Showalter, who led a Thailand crosscultural group in 2021, said the trip proved to be a “real turning point” for him as a professor.
“I was able to interact with these students and see a lot more of what they were going through from the other side, not just from the front of the classroom, but as a supporter,” he said.
At the beginning of every semester, he has his students fill out intro surveys, where they describe themselves and their relationship with mathematics. The surveys provide him with a glimpse into their lives and allow him to form personal connections with them.
Showalter starts his first sabbatical next semester, one that will focus on how professors can aid in students’ mental health. He said it’s important for him to “teach people, not statistics.”
“You can’t just take this curriculum and apply it to any given set of students,” he said. “From the very beginning, I want to know each student individually as much as they’ll let me get to know them. … Even if they don’t learn statistics, I want every student to come out of here feeling like they’re valued or to find ways to affirm them as a person.”