UM-Dearborn’s Yunus Zeytuncu, Mathematics associate professor, named Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year

June 15, 2021

The statewide award recognizes the outstanding contributions to undergraduate education exhibited by faculty at Michigan’s public universities.

Associate Professor teaching mathematics to a Maize and Blue Math Circle participant.
Associate Professor teaching mathematics to a Maize and Blue Math Circle participant.
Associate Professor Yunus Zeytuncu, left, works with Maize and Blue Math Circle students in this 2016 file photo.

Mathematics Associate Professor Yunus Zeytuncu speaks about complex math problems in a way that captivates listeners. When helping students understand foundational math concepts, he uses games. To explain differential equations, he talks about pouring creamer into the coffee. When teaching students about spectrum, he plays a 3D-printed drum. And if there are still questions on the material, Zeytuncu exhibits both patience and persistence.

“Making connections and using metaphors help you learn something new; it becomes relatable,” said Zeytuncu, who is also the director for campus’ Center for Mathematics Education. “Academics learn through research — but it’s also important to share that gained knowledge through teaching and training. To me, research and teaching are together under one umbrella of scholarship. As a scholar, it’s important to me to produce new knowledge and to find new ways to share knowledge. ”

At UM-Dearborn, Zeytuncu is known for his dedication to teaching mathematics. And thanks to a recently announced award, he’s getting recognized for it across the state too.

Zeytuncu received the 2021 Michigan Association of State Universities’ (MASU) Michigan Distinguished Professor of the Year Award, which recognizes the outstanding contributions to undergraduate education exhibited by faculty at Michigan’s 15 public universities.

“Professor Zeytuncu is a tireless and innovative educator who has dedicated much of his career to creating transformative opportunities for undergraduate students at UM-Dearborn, as well as the broader southeast Michigan community of all ages,” said Susan E. Alcock, UM-Dearborn provost and executive vice chancellor for Academic Affairs.

Zeytuncu brings top math students from across the nation to UM-Dearborn during the summer and leads a Research Experiences for Undergraduates site focusing on mathematics analysis and applications. Zeytuncu teaches hundreds of UM-Dearborn students in up to six courses each year and mentors others. And because he wants to help prepare the next generation of learners, he developed the Maize and Blue Math Circle tutoring program for middle and high school-aged kids.

For the Maize and Blue Math Circle program, Zeytuncu secured multiple grants to travel to Detroit-area schools after speaking with one of his young students. “He was a 14-year-old who was taking two buses to get here [UM-Dearborn campus] — to do math after school,” Zeytuncu said. “That’s when I had the idea to go out to the urban schools and offer the program there too.”

Zeytuncu said he’s honored by the MASU award. He credits his Mathematics and Statistics Department colleagues, professional mentors, past teachers, and his parents for his success.

The UM-Dearborn professor grew up in a household centered around education — both his parents were teachers in Turkey — and at a young age he emulated what he learned from that supportive environment.

“At school, we had before- and after-school study sessions. I was doing well in mathematics. Other students would come up to me and ask for help. Even if I knew how to solve a problem, it was still a challenge because I needed to explain it in a way that makes sense to others. If one way didn’t work, I’d try another until I could see that the person understood it. I found satisfaction in explaining complicated ideas to others.”

Reflecting on his career, Zeytuncu said his students motivate him to find new and innovative ways to share his love of problem-solving. And the MASU Distinguished Professor of the Year Award lets him know that he’s on the right track.

“This award is a signal to me that what we are doing at UM-Dearborn is working,” he said. “My name is on the award, but I couldn’t do this alone. I’m proud to be a part of a team that does amazing work because our priority is making sure our students have everything they need to be successful. There are many caring, dedicated people at UM-Dearborn, and I’m happy to represent what we do.” 

Associate Professor Zeytuncu earned his Ph.D. from the Ohio State University in 2010 and his B.S. in mathematics from Bilkent University in Turkey in 2004. He was a visiting assistant professor at Texas A&M University before joining the University of Michigan-Dearborn faculty in 2013. In 2019, he received the Mathematical Association of America Michigan Section’s Distinguished Teaching Award.

 

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