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UW’s Moorhouse Receives Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award

May 4, 2017
head portrait of a man
Eric Moorhouse, a UW professor of mathematics, is one of three recipients of the 2017 John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award. (UW Photo)

Whether he makes mathematics applicable to the real world or creates his own course materials to fit his students’ needs, Eric Moorhouse, a University of Wyoming mathematics professor, is praised by colleagues and students alike.

“Dr. Moorhouse is a professor who is unparalleled; his personality is of one that you find in grade school, where teachers foster and value the relationships with their students,” says Lucas Burge, a former UW student who took some of Moorhouse’s classes and is now a secondary mathematics teacher at the Metropolitan School of Panama. “Eric, as he insisted we call him, would join in with us for a late-night study session in our dorm and would come with snacks so we were not neglecting our stomachs as we dived into finite and axiomatic geometries.”

Moorhouse is one of three recipients of the John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award, established in 1977 by businessman John P. "Jack" Ellbogen to "foster, encourage and reward excellence in classroom teaching at UW." Other Ellbogen winners are Paul Dellenback, Department of Mechanical Engineering associate professor, and Yan Zhang, Department of Modern and Classical Languages senior lecturer.

“I strive to impress upon students that the answer to a math problem is really not a number, but an explanation,” Moorhouse says. “I feel this is important because, in their lives beyond UW, most of our students will have more need for clear communication skills than they will have for any particular formulas or mathematical constructs.”

Russell Johnson, a former student and nominator, recalls how Moorhouse, during an information theory course, used simple slide animation to explain the theory of how Capt. Kirk in Star Trek transported himself from a starship to the surface of some distant planet.

“I am impressed by how engaged his students are, especially given the abstract and challenging nature of the topics,” says John Hitchcock, a UW professor of computer science who sat in on two of Moorhouse’s classes, and who nominated him for the award. “This reflects Eric’s enthusiasm for these areas.”

Moorhouse came to UW in 1989 as an assistant professor of mathematics. His mathematical interests have included projective geometry, codes and designs, nonassociative structures, algebraic combinatorics and information theory. He attempts to use a variety of tools, both experimental (practical programming with computers) and theoretical (methods from group theory, algebraic geometry, number theory and mathematical logic). He loves teaching at all levels of the mathematics curriculum, both graduate and undergraduate.

“Much of the mathematical content that I teach involves abstract concepts, and the abstract tends to provoke looks of puzzlement in the faces of students,” Moorhouse says. “I have always tried to represent abstraction as another name for generalization, while emphasizing that this is the feature that gives mathematics its power -- encapsulating an idea from one aspect of our human experience and using it in a great many other contexts.”

Moorhouse received his Ph.D. and master’s degree in mathematics, and his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and statistics, all from the University of Toronto.

“I feel truly fortunate to have landed in Laramie. Based on my experience of the teaching environment at a dozen other universities, I have no hesitation in saying that the culture at UW holds teaching excellence in higher regard than any other comparable institution I know,” Moorhouse says. “In my 27 years here, I have known a great many outstanding teachers who have inspired me to do better than my best. It is an honor to call myself one of their colleagues.”

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