Buies Creek, N.C.—One of Dr. Jerry Taylor’s heroes is 18th century physicist Sir Isaac Newton, the man who discovered gravity and developed the science of mechanics. Both Newton’s and Taylor’s mathematical careers spanned almost 50 years. And though the two are centuries apart, they share something in common, a dedication to excellence. On Oct, 31, Taylor, who retired from Campbell University’s Math Department in 2007, received the W.W. Rankin Award for outstanding contributions to math education from the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCCTM). For Taylor, it was an affirmation of the tough teaching style many students struggled to avoid.
One of the university’s hardest teachers, according to the students, and four of his colleagues whose last names also began with “T,” even received a nickname, “The Terrible Ts.” But the success of many of those who matriculated through Taylor’s courses, however painful, helps to validate his demanding teaching methods.
“I didn’t enjoy being a ‘Terrible T,’ necessarily,” said Taylor in his trademark hat and bow tie, “but it wasn’t all bad. I got some of the more serious students in my classes. I can’t prove that, but I know that many of them have gone on to very good careers, some even in mathematics.”
But Taylor’s fervor for mathematics didn’t just extend to college students. Over 30 years ago, he initiated a local math contest for high school students in the Harnett County area that soon developed into an annual state-wide competition. Begun in 1979, the North Carolina Mathematics Contest, sponsored by the NCCTM, is a state level competition in comprehensive mathematics for secondary students who have excelled in regional contests held earlier across the state. The winners are invited to compete in national competitions and receive a full scholarship from one of the participating universities, including Duke, Davidson, Campbell, East Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and others.
“Students taught me many things,” said Taylor, reflecting on his long career. “Some taught me to be a little better organized. Sometimes they showed me a different way to work a problem better, a shorter solution, to look at things in another way. It’s amazing what you can learn.”
A native of Arkansas, Taylor graduated from the University of Central Arkansas and received a Master of Science degree in mathematics from the University of Arkansas. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in Math Education from Florida State University.
The W.W. Rankin Award is named in memory of a professor of mathematics at Duke University. The Rankin Award is the highest honor given by the NCCTM.
“I felt very fortunate to win the award,” Taylor said humbly. “I’ve watched them give out that award many times and most who received it had worked hard over the years.”
Photo Copy: Dr. Jerry R. Taylor displays the award given to him by the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics.