(photo illustration by student photographer Amber Patrick)
A Man of Letters and Science
Growing up in Kenosha, Wis., John Koker had no idea what he wanted to do when he grew up, but he did know one thing: he didn't want to teach.
But the son of an auto factory worker and a jail cook soon discovered that life doesn't always turn out as planned. To support his graduate studies, Koker worked as a teaching assistant and was thrust onto the teaching stage.
"I taught my first math class when I was about 22 years old at Purdue University, and I was hooked," said Koker, who earned his bachelor's degree in math from St. Norbert College, his master's degree from Purdue and his doctorate's degree from UW-Milwaukee.
"I thought, 'This is really what I want to do.'"
Koker is entering his 26th year of teaching at the college level. Since 2007, he has been dean of the College of Letters and Science (COLS) at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He joined the teaching staff at UW Oshkosh in 1991 and became chair of the Department of Mathematics in 2000, a post he held until he was tapped to be the interim COLS dean in early 2007.
He has won two of the highest awards bestowed on faculty at UW Oshkosh, the 2002 Distinguished Teaching Award and the 2004 John McNaughton Rosebush Professorship for Excellence in Teaching. In 2006, he received the Board of Regents Teaching Excellence Award, the highest recognition for teaching in the UW System.
In addition to teaching and his duties as dean, Koker finds time to sustain a life-long passion for acting. He auditions and often lands roles in student-produced plays and films. Most recently, Koker slipped on a pair of blue suede shoes and sported a pompadour that would make any Elvis impersonator proud. He played the King of Rock 'n' in Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a play written by Steve Martin.
In an interview with COLS Special Reports producer Grace Lim, Koker talks about his love for math, the arts and teaching.
The Love of Math
In this video, Dean John Koker talks about how odd numbers led him down the problem-solving path and how his misbehavior in grade school led to more math problems.
Math and Roofing
In this video, Dean John Koker reveals his secret on how he deals with strangers who routinely tell him how much they hate math.
More than Adding and Subtracting
In this video, Dean John Koker answers the age-old question, "Why do I need to know more math? I already know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide."
All the World's a Stage
In this video, Dean John Koker shares his love of acting and how being the dean holds no sway with picky directors. (Theater photos courtesy of UW Oshkosh Theatre technical director Mick Alderson.)
Teaching and Life
In this video, Dean John Koker recounts his early teaching days and his hopes for his students after they leave UW Oshkosh. (Classroom photos by student photographer Amber Patrick.)