Colin Adams receives the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers

Recently, Colin Adams, professor of mathematics, was awarded the Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teachers by Baylor University. In addition, Adams will receive a prize of $15,000, and he will have the honor of delivering a series of lectures at the university this September.

According to Baylor University, Adams “was chosen on the basis of his extraordinary teaching ability, record of positive, inspiring and long-lasting effects on students and his national and international achievements.”

Frank Morgan, Dennis Meenan ’54 Third Century Professor of Mathematics, nominated Adams for the award with confidence in his success.

“It is easy to understand why they would pick Adams. He is a great teacher, and he is doing great research. To find someone like this who is in mathematics is extraordinary,” Morgan said

Adams, who has taught at the College since 1985, is at the forefront of his field. He specializes in low-dimensional topology, specifically knot theory and hyperbolic 3-manifolds.

While making advances in the field of mathematics, Adams is especially known for his inventive teaching techniques and his ability to make mathematics an interesting and attractive subject.

“His creative, original style is of incredible importance to the country and its appreciation of math,” Morgan said.

Adams often presents his lectures as one of various personae that he has created.

Adam’s most familiar character is Mel Slugbate. Adams described Mel as “a sleazy, plaid suit wearing, real estate agent whose goal in life is to bilk people out of their life savings.” Adams said, “Of course, that’s not how he would describe himself.”

Mel Slugbate takes one of four occupations for each lecture. As a real estate agent, Slugbate, presents “Real Estate in Hyperbolic Space: Investment Opportunities for the New Millennium.” With this character, Adams addresses attentive audiences across the country. Morgan said that right now “Adams is the most popular speaker in all of mathematics.”

About his own work, Adams said, “I think about how you can excite people about math.” His success at this can be marked by his national reputation as well as his popularity on campus.

Eric Schoenfeld ’03, Adams’ present thesis student, said, “[Adams] is one of those rare teachers who can connect with students of all levels of interest and experience. He goes out of his way to make math exciting. I know many students who joined the math major simply because they enjoyed a class with him so much that they got hooked.

“Williams is truly lucky to have a professor like him, and no one should graduate without attending one of his talks. Besides, how many thesis students get to have an advisor who was in the Abercrombie catalogue?”

Adams attributes much of his success to the College. “I think a large part of why I got this award is being at Williams College. I am given leeway to do what is best for my students,” he said.

Adams offered as an example a winter study course he once taught to six students on knot theory. From that one month study, Adams created an entire course and wrote a textbook to go along with it.

“The College has been very supportive and has allowed me to do things in a lot of different ways. Williams is the perfect place for allowing faculty to be creative and foster excitement,” he said.

Outside the classroom and lecture circuit, Adams has had over 36 research papers published, and has written four books on knot theory and topology, a subject that Adams revolutionized. Adams changed the way topology was taught from a pure science to an applied science.

Over his summers, Adams has the privilege of working with students in the National Science Foundation’s undergraduate research project, SMALL. Along with six students, Adams completes original research on t knot theory and topology.Adams has been named the Francis Oakley Third Century Professor at Williams College and was awarded the Sigma Xi Distinguished Lecturer award for 2000-2001.

“Colin Adams is an amazing individual. It is a no-brainer that he deserves this award,” said Tom Garrity, professor of mathematics, who summed it up best.