Carnegie Mellon University
May 07, 2024

Wellner Receives the Hugh D. Young Award

By Ann Lyon Ritchie

Heidi Opdyke
  • Interim Director of Communications, MCS
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Carnegie Mellon University’s Zoe Wellner has a knack for inspiring others to give mathematical sciences a try. Her teaching techniques resonate with math and non-math students alike.

“I try to break down any fear or discomfort in approaching the material,” said Wellner, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Mathematical Sciences. “Students not only heal their relationship with math, but also get a lot more out of their mathematical studies and other subjects. Some of them end up wanting to do math, which is really exciting!”

She uses active learning techniques, such as engaging students in discussions, confirming their understanding as she lectures and providing revision opportunities.

“I'm usually going to be asking them, ‘So what's the next step?’ when I’m solving an example in class,” Wellner said.

When serving as a teaching assistant (TA) for the first offering of the Introduction to Mathematical Concepts course, she said she loved making an impact on a course designed to introduce proof-based mathematics to students from any background.

Wellner served as a primary instructor for Calculus I, for which she prepared lectures, designed assignments, created the midterm exam and coordinated the TAs. At Carnegie Mellon, she connects with the Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation to observe her teaching and help her continuously improve her skills and techniques.

She also taught at Canada/USA Mathcamp, an international summer program that introduces areas of advanced mathematics to high school students.

“At Mathcamp, everybody observes each other's classes,” Wellner said. “Regular observations and feedback are part of the culture and have a huge impact on my development as an instructor.”

Clive Newstead, assistant teaching professor of Mathematical Sciences, described Wellner’s contributions to the department and to campus as a “jaw-dropping number,” which included founding a chapter of the Association of Women in Mathematics, reinstating a Graduate Student and Postdoc Seminar, serving as a mentor and advisor for the CMU Math Club, mentoring for an undergraduate research program, and teaching for various programs.

“Zoe has a constant drive to bring mathematics to the masses, to advise and mentor others and to make strides to improve diversity, equity and inclusion along the way,” Newstead said.

Wellner, whose focus of research is topological combinatorics, earned her Ph.D. this spring.

She is the 2024 recipient of the Hugh D. Young Award. The Young Award was established in 1995 in honor of Hugh D. Young, a professor of physics at the Mellon College of Science and is presented to one MCS Ph.D. student annually.

“She is a truly impressive educator and is a very deserving recipient of the Hugh D. Young Award,” Newstead said.