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When it comes to teaching, Rob Downes ’86 is a natural. Even in high school, his trigonometry teacher recognized the ease with which Downes explained difficult concepts to his classmates. Now a high school math teacher himself at Mountain Lakes High School in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, Downes emits a contagious enthusiasm for math.
This year, Princeton University honored Downes and three other New Jersey secondary school teachers at its 2011 commencement. When Mountain Lakes shared the news of his Distinguished Teacher Award on the morning announcements, Downes’ students felt that they won, too.
Making math relevant in the real world is the key; the days of “Sam and Jane counting widgets” are gone, says Downes. Recently, he reconnected with a former student, who is now in medical school. Thanks to Downes, she found success where others struggled in medical courses involving statistics.
“Students simply need to see that their teachers are enjoying what they’re doing,” says Downes, who next school year will tackle his new roles as dean of students and math department supervisor. “When students see that passion, it’s only natural for them to want to be part of that energy, too. I try to keep that energy alive.”
Downes became a lifelong learner as a math major at Moravian. In addition to involved faculty like Doris Schattschneider, professor emerita of mathematics, a friend and mentor with whom he still corresponds, opportunities outside the classroom such as January term made learning fun.
One of his classes taken during a January term was Heuristic Problem Solving with Jack Dilendik, professor of education. Downes still utilizes some of the concepts learned there with his own students. In another term, he traveled to France. He also was able to get some classroom time before his actual student teaching experience began, in his senior year.
“Choosing a college is all about fit,” says Downes, who also earned a master’s degree in applied mathematics at the California State University, Long Beach. “I knew immediately that Moravian was the right choice as soon as I walked into Comenius Hall. I cannot say enough about my experience at Moravian, and I always look forward to returning to campus.”
"When students see your passion, it’s natural for them to want to be part of that energy."