Math Professor’s Impact Incalculable

Thursday, March 02, 2017
Rose-Hulman mathematics professor Elton Graves teaches a class.

Top of His Class: Elton Graves earned the institute’s Dean’s Outstanding Teacher Award and was recognized in 2012 by the Princeton Review as one of the nation’s best 300 professors.

It takes a mathematician like Elton Graves to calculate the impact the veteran educator has had on Rose-Hulman, its students and other young problem solvers.

A member of the Rose-Hulman faculty for more than 30 years until his recent retirement, Graves earned recognition for his extraordinary work in the classroom in 2012—named by the Princeton Review to its Best 300 Professors in America book. He also received the institute’s Dean’s Outstanding Teacher Award for his use of real-world examples to illustrate math concepts, and earned the Distinguished Educator and Service Award from the American Society of Engineering Education’s Math Division.

“The most satisfying and rewarding part of being a professor is seeing students' eyes light up when they understand the mathematics I am trying to teach," Graves has said. “I think you have to be engaged and excited about the subject. Using models and demonstrations helps students see the mathematics as a tool they will actually need as engineers or scientists."

Alumnus John Cochran has implemented Graves’ teaching style as an assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Tennessee-Martin.

"Dr. Graves' enthusiasm is contagious. When he enters the classroom, he brings with him an excitement about mathematics that can easily be felt,” Cochran has remarked. “Dr. Graves could help you visualize difficult material. I remember we were talking about gradients, and he started the class by telling us we were going on a field trip. He proceeded to lead us outside with a meter stick, and showed us what the gradient really meant from a physical perspective."

Another former student, mathematics alumnus Phil Banet, adds, "Dr. Graves' passion for his work was truly evident every day.  I don't think I ever remember him having an 'off' day when we had class." Banet is a senior actuary at Allstate Insurance.

Graves’ concern and care for students was reflected as he directed the Fast Track Calculus program before each school year and served as chair of the institute’s Academic & Standing Committee, helping students overcome their academic struggles and eventually realize their dreams of earning a Rose-Hulman degree.

"If his students looked lost, he'd pick up on that and change to a different teaching style. His door was always open, too. Sometimes it seems like he was the first professor to arrive and the last one to leave," says former student Lea Dekker, now a project engineer at National Instruments.

Graves also was a faculty member in the Home for Environmentally Responsible Engineering program and a member of the Grand Challenges group.

As state director of the American Mathematics Competitions, and regional and state MATHCOUNTS coordinator, Graves encouraged youths throughout Indiana to showcase their problem solving skills.

Graves joined the Rose-Hulman faculty in 1981. He specialized in computer graphics, numerical analysis, and the mathematics of sustainability, and thoroughly enjoyed teaching courses in calculus, differential equations, applied linear algebra and boundary value problems.