It came as an alert on her phone with only the first few words of the email displaying on her screen.
“Dear Qiang, Congratulations …”
Dotzel, a teaching professor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, was taken aback, wondering what she might have done to prompt the special message from Chancellor Kristin Sobolik.
The annual program, sponsored by the St. Louis-headquartered global technology and engineering company, has been recognizing local instructors, selected by their schools’ administrators, for their accomplishments and dedication to their students and the teaching profession since 1989.
“I am very surprised and humbled by receiving this award,” Dotzel said. “I know that there are many very successful, caring faculty at UMSL for whom this award would have been very appropriate. I am grateful for this recognition.”
Dotzel, who earned her master’s degree in mathematics at UMSL in 1993, has been teaching mathematics at her alma mater for the past 20 years. These days she divides her time teaching diverse groups of undergraduates in Contemporary Mathematics – a general education course filled with mostly liberal arts majors – and Analytic Geometry and Calculus II, which is a foundational course for students majoring in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
With both groups, Dotzel tries to share what she sees as “the magnificent inherent beauty of mathematics.” She enjoys showing her students the way mathematics can be used to solve practical problems in areas such as probability, statistics or finance. She also takes great pleasure in helping students realize sophisticated mathematical thought such as the fact that one can add up infinitely many positive numbers to a finite conclusion.
“Mathematics is perhaps unique among the sciences in that new knowledge flows in a logical stream from known facts and previous discoveries, creating something akin to a tapestry woven through logical principle.” Dotzel said. “The knowledge obtained is unassailably precise and true.”
Dotzel loves being in the classroom where she involves each student in active learning with problem discussions.
“The classroom is a refuge where active learning takes place,” Dotzel said. “This type of student-centered learning is pivotal to students’ success. It helps to foster a diverse and vibrant learning community.”
She has made use of the many resources available to her. Student Success Tutoring grants and Supplemental Instruction have provided direct support to her students. She investigated and implemented many free digital tools and games in her classroom or during Zoom meetings, including some that assess individual comprehension during virtual sessions. It’s been rewarding to see the positive outcomes from these activities.
Teaching and learning have both become more challenging in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Dotzel has readily adapted while holding all of her classes in a virtual format since March. She holds regular Zoom sessions to give her students a dedicated opportunity to study mathematics with her guidance and records those sessions for students who have other obligations preventing them from participating.
“Synchronous teaching is more than content delivery,” she said. “It is also a way that we provide emotional support and help students to structure their academic life while being socially isolated.”
Dotzel has marveled at the resilience of her students, many of whom are balancing significant family responsibility or heavy workloads as they pursue their education during unusually trying times.
She’s also been impressed by the dedication of her colleagues, particularly those in the Office of eLearning.
“Their prompt response helps me and my students with technical problems in Canvas and Zoom,” Dotzel said, “and they’ve found ways to overcome many technical difficulties.”
That’s allowed Dotzel to continue to positively impact her students.
Dotzel was one of 10 UMSL graduates among the 2020 recipients of the Emerson Excellence in Teaching Award. Here’s a list of the other honorees:
Abena Bradley-Madkins, MEd 2015, Riverview Gardens High School
Darrion Cockrell, BSEd, BIS 2013, Crestwood Elementary School, Lindbergh School District
Cathy Farraar, BSED 2003 MEd 2006 PhD 2012, Marquette High School, Rockwood School District
Julie Guelker, MEd 1993, St. Mary’s High School, Archdiocese of St. Louis
John Hartmann, BSEd 2003, Ellisville Elementary School, Rockwood School District
Mary Beth Ohlms, MEd 2004, Fontbonne University
Travis Rainey, BSEd 2012, Fairview Elementary School, Jennings School District
Katherine Torrington, BSEd 1998, St. Frances Cabrini Academy, Archdiocese of St. Louis
Nathan Williams, BSEd 2010, Bayless Junior High School