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Prof. Steven Winters and his family

The following faculty Q&A was submitted by the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Faculty Advocacy Committee, a committee of the Faculty Senate.

Jennifer Szydlik, professor of mathematics and 2010 Regents Teaching Excellence Award recipient, wrote the introduction.

I am delighted to introduce my friend and colleague, Steve Winters. He joined the mathematics department at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 1993. Since then, he has earned a stellar reputation as a prolific researcher and a prolific fisherman. In fact, he estimates that he has published more than forty professional papers (and caught significantly more fish). An avid outdoors-man, Winters is right at home in the woods and on the lakes of northeastern Wisconsin.

Winters enjoys teaching undergraduate students to do mathematics research; he is great at choosing problems that are both accessible and interesting to students. He also serves as the mathematics liaison for the Cooperative Academic Partnership Program (CAPP), which allows able high school students to earn credit for college courses. This means that he regularly visits regional high schools to work with both teachers and students. Winters brings a thoughtful, unpretentious manner to all he does, and I can think of few colleagues better suited to this work.

How did you find your way to UW Oshkosh?

“I wanted to live in the Midwest and be someplace where there were all four seasons, especially winter.  Ice fishing is a passion of mine, and I would not want to give it up.  Ultimately, I picked Oshkosh because I liked the smaller community feel of the area.”

Why did you choose to go into your field?

“When I attended college at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, I started out studying mathematics and computer science. I also considered actuarial science, which would have allowed me to apply statistical methods in business. In my third year of college I began doing research with one of my mathematics professors, Joseph Gallian. He encouraged me to study how product identification numbers are designed. These include the bar code numbers you can find on everything from canned goods to paper products. The mathematics used to design product identification numbers is called ‘Coding Theory.’

“Professor Gallian had me study money order numbers used by the U.S. Postal Service and identification numbers used by several airline companies as well as Federal Express and United Parcel Service. We figured out how to improve their methods and wrote up our results in 1988 article. Later on, I also became interested in another kind of mathematics, which is known as ‘Graph Theory.’ My research experience led to a personal invitation from Gary Chartrand, a well-known graph theorist, to work with him as a doctoral student.”

What is your favorite thing about UW Oshkosh?

“The opportunity to solve graph theory problems with a group of math department faculty is my favorite thing. The collaboration we have is unique in this field. Graph theory problems and the applications are very interesting. For example, you can use graph theory to determine the best location in a city for a new hospital. Graph theory can also model the structure of games. It provides a visual way to model real world situations or problems. I enjoy the collaboration and find my students become interested in graph theory problems as well.”

What is the professional accomplishment of which you are most proud?

“I find it most satisfying to see my students’ work get published and presented at conferences. As a first generation college graduate, I am proud of the fact that I was able to turn my passion for mathematics into a career as a mathematics professor. I am proud that I am the first person in my family to earn a Ph.D. and enjoy seeing my students continue their own education in part because of their interest in working together on research projects. When I completed my undergraduate degree I thanked my professor for the opportunities he provided to me to do undergraduate research and further my education. He told me the only thanks he needed was for me to provide the same research opportunities to undergraduate students when I had the chance.”

What leadership or service activities are you involved in?

“I was the director of the Cooperative Academic Partnership Program for six years and have been a liaison for nine years. Through this program, high school juniors and seniors can earn college credits from UW Oshkosh while paying a reduced tuition rate. It is also the first program of its kind in Wisconsin to be nationally accredited by the National Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships. The courses are taught by high school teachers who are designated as adjunct faculty. The courses are offered in the students’ schools. As a liaison, my role involves working with high school math teachers to design and implement their courses.”

What is the most common misperception about what you do?

“People question what it means to do research in mathematics. They think everything must already be known. In reality, the more research that is done the more we find out what is still to be discovered. Math research continues to generate more research.”

What is the most exciting project you are working on right now?

“I am learning new ways to teach mathematics online. Two math courses I am developing are for the Cooperative Academic Partnership Program. I am also writing an online textbook for a business math course with three colleagues from my department. This online textbook will be free for students.”

How does what you research help you to be an effective teacher?

“Students must do their own research in mathematics for two upper level courses I teach. They are also required to either present their results in class or at a conference. Some of their papers are also submitted for publication in math journals. My research activities allow me to identify problems that will be ideal for students.”

Describe some ways your department serves Northeastern Wisconsin.

“The mathematics department recently received a three-year grant for nearly $450,000 through the Mathematics and Science Partnerships program of the No Child Left Behind Act. This funding supports The Making Mathematical Connections program, which includes school districts such as Clintonville, Lomira, Menasha, Neenah, New London, Oshkosh, North Fond du Lac, Seymour and Wild Rose. The goal is to deepen understanding of mathematical concepts for students by connecting faculty with practicing elementary and middle school math teachers.”

Tell us about your family.

“My wife, Cathy, has her Ph.D. in continuing and vocational education. We have twins, Grace and Bennett, who were born on New Year’s Eve 2009. They are learning to walk and fast becoming problem solvers of their own. Our next big challenge will be keeping them out of the lake this summer. We have two German Shorthair Pointers that love to run and hunt birds.”

What are your favorite hobbies?

“Fishing, fishing and fishing. Sometimes I even get time to go hunting. I also enjoy gardening. Every year the garden seems to get bigger and bigger. Last year, I planted 20 varieties of tomatoes. I plant everything from asparagus to zucchini. I have enough salsa canned to eat a pint a week for the year.”

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