This week’s Gustie of the Week is Visiting Assistant Professor in Math, Computer Science, and Statistics: Jeff Ford.
Ford wasn’t always interested in math. In fact, he never finished an undergraduate degree in math. As a 1998 Gustavus graduate, Ford received his degree in geology, and it wasn’t until he started taking a night calculus class at a community college that he discovered his love of math. Ford went back to school in hopes of becoming an engineer, where he took some more math classes. In these classes, he found that “It wasn’t just a boring calculation to get an answer anymore. It was a puzzle.”
After realizing that his electives became filled with math courses, Ford began his graduate degree in math instead of engineering. He learned that math “… was something that you could interact with at this much, much deeper level…” than he initially knew. While in his master’s program, Ford got a teaching assistant position in remedial freshman algebra, where he first experienced the connection he loves in teaching.
He worked with nontraditional students who had been bad at math their whole lives. Ford discovered that “If you … figure out the right way to explain things, they can connect with it and it means something to them.” He loves “… convincing [students] that they can in fact be good at this.” It was through this experience that Ford decided he wanted to teach as a career.
Ford started teaching at Gustavus eight years ago and has taught almost all of the math and computer science classes. He particularly enjoys teaching Nature of Math because he likes “… to work with the future education majors and talk about the why behind mathematical teaching methods.”
His favorite part of teaching is “the moment when you see a struggling student’s eyes light up as they realize that they can do something that five minutes ago they didn’t believe they could do.” Even though applied mathematics jobs pay more than teaching, “no amount of money would ever make up for that moment of connecting with individual students,” Ford said.
Senior Tyler Teichmiller has taken three classes with Ford and has him as an advisor and mentor. Teichmiller thinks that Ford is a great professor because “He encourages productive failures and prioritizes learning and mastering material for all of his students.” Beyond just class materials, Ford wants to see his students succeed in all aspects of their personal lives, including asking “about how athletic competitions or music performances went,” Teichmiller added.
One of Ford’s colleagues in the MCS department, Associate Professor in Math, Computer Science, and Statistics Jillian Downey also appreciates having Ford’s support “both inside and outside of the classroom.” She described that “Jeff is always willing to help in any way that he can, and he genuinely cares about the well-being of other people.” Ford helps Downey with “pedagogical approaches” that she uses, so she appreciates “his depth of knowledge in inclusive STEM teaching.”
In addition to being a professor, Ford is also a musician. He plays guitar and piano and sings and plays drums in a few bands. Music is most of his free time, and he even keeps a practice guitar in his office for when he has extra time between working with students.