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Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs Lee V. Stiff ’78PHD to Retire July 1 After 44-year Career in Education 

Lee Stiff

Lee V. Stiff ’78PHD — a nationally-recognized thought-leader and scholar on equity and mathematics education — will retire from NC State University’s College of Education on July 1, 2020, as associate dean for faculty and academic affairs and professor of mathematics education after a 44-year career in education.

“As a college, we will miss Dr. Stiff’s commitment to equity and fairness and his measured approach to problem solving,” said NC State College of Education Dean Mary Ann Danowitz. “Personally, I will miss Dr. Stiff’s steadiness, candor, his fine grained analysis of faculty issues, and his unwavering commitment to recognize the distinctiveness and the best of every human being.”

After teaching middle and high school mathematics and serving on the faculty at UNC-Charlotte, Stiff joined the NC State College of Education’s faculty in 1983 as an associate professor and was promoted to full professor in 2000. He began serving as an interim associate dean in July 2017 and a year later was named the associate dean for faculty and academic affairs. He earned his Ph.D. in mathematics education from the College of Education after completing his master’s in mathematics from Duke University and bachelor’s in mathematics from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Throughout his career, he has received numerous awards and accolades, including the 2019 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Lifetime Achievement Award. Other honors include being named the College of Education’s 2010 Distinguished Alumnus and receiving the Rankin Memorial Award for Excellence in Mathematics Education from the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics and a Fulbright Scholar Award to the University of Ghana. He also served as NCTM’s president from 2000 to 2002.

You can hear Stiff reflect on his career in this video produced for when he received NCTM’s Lifetime Achievement Award:

WRAL-TV Anchor Debra Morgan, who emceed last October’s EdTalks: A Celebration of K-12 Education that Stiff ideated, also made this video to recognize Stiff’s impact on the field of education and wish him well.

In addition, former students and colleagues from across the campus and nation submitted over 100 messages to celebrate Stiff and his legacy. These are just a handful of the submissions:

Dr. Stiff, 

Where do I even begin? Perhaps like any good story, I’ll just start at the beginning. You were a busy NCTM president. However, you always made time for this little student teacher at Athens Drive HS back in 1999. Of course, I was so nervous when you observed. After all, you’re Dr. Stiff!!! But, always so encouraging, you helped me identify strengths in my teaching and places for growth. I was so fortunate to have you as a university supervisor, and I loved the feedback sessions with you. You taught me so much about teaching students, meeting them where they were, expecting great things from each of them, and never backing any of them into the proverbial corner. You helped me gain so much confidence in those early years.

Skip forward a few years and masters courses with you and we will pause at my master’s graduation in 2005. The photos shared here were taken on that December day. I’ll never forget this hug at graduation, and I’m so happy that Ray captured it. I remember not really wanting to let go. I wanted to keep telling you how much I appreciated you, but you kept me moving on. Little did I know, you were headed to my house later that afternoon for a surprise party. This second photo is one of my favorites as it shows you, Dr. Waters, and Dr. Chandler talking in my house with one of my mentor teachers at Athens Drive, Ms. Kathy Hill. Another photo I have from that party is of you and my late grandmother. She didn’t know any of your credentials or accolades, yet you talked with her and made her feel comfortable. You have a way of doing that with everyone, you know. 

Move forward a few more years and I recall a conversation with you about the doctoral program. While I don’t remember the exact date, I do remember you asking, “what are you waiting on?” Dr. Stiff, thank you for always believing in me, always pushing me to be a better version of myself. I am so honored that our work together continued through my Ph.D. until graduation in 2011. You have written countless letters of recommendation on my behalf, supporting me in my endeavors, and encouraging me along the way.

I found a YouTube video recently of your 2016 “What You Know For Sure” talk. I actually forwarded it to a friend of mine and said “this is SO Dr. Stiff. I love that man!” You know what else I know for sure? I know for sure that you have been a champion for mathematics education and a stalwart supporter of all students. I know for sure that you have pointed to the truth and advocated for good things in mathematics education. I know for sure that you have made an incredible, lasting impression on our field. And, I know for sure that I am a better teacher and a better human being because of you, Dr. Stiff!! You have made a difference in my life. Thank you so much for your service. I pray that you find peace and contentment in these days knowing that you have left a tremendous legacy. I love you!

With a grateful heart,
Tina Tedder Starling

Dear Lee, 

Congratulations on a long and distinguished career. The college was fortunate to have you on the faculty for so long. You brought distinction to your department and to the faculty and students generally. You and your family have been kind and generous benefactors as well. 

Best wishes for your coming retirement.

Kay Moore, Former College of Education Dean

Dear Lee

Thank you for all your service and work to build NC State’’s mathematics education program to the excellent program it is today. I remember being a doc student with a desk outside your office and dreaming of the day I might have a cool job like yours!  

You were the amazing president of NCTM and a cool guy in the department. Glenda Carter and I had fun with your jokes and learned from your mentoring. I remember those were interesting days when the department was mainly composed of male professors who all went to Baxleys every day for lunch. You were a pioneer at NC State and helped us make our college and department a great place for students and faculty. I wish we could have a big party for you but know we will miss seeing you and wish you the very best in your retirement.

Gail Jones


Thank you for being a mentor, friend, and colleague. You have been a role model throughout my academic career and I appreciate the time and care you have shown me. I take pride in following the example you set as an academic and as President of NCTM. When I was elected President of NCTM, you reminded me to make an impact. I hope I made you proud. Congratulations on a career of excellence

Robert Berry
Samuel Braley Gray Professor of Mathematics Education
University of Virginia | Curry School of Education and Human Development

Dear Lee,

Just to let you know how much we in the College of Engineering appreciate you and all that you have done not only for countless students and faculty in the College of Education but in our College as well and NC State-wide. NC State has been blessed by your presence and many meaningful contributions. 

Take care and stay safe “buen amigo” and God Bless…..

Most sincerely, 
Dean Louie and your COE friends
Louie Martin-Vega


It has been both an honor and privilege to work with you over the past 19 years. One, of many, lessons I have learned is the importance of having strong principles that guide your decisions. There are two principles Lee often voiced that I think are especially important. The first is that you want to make decisions that are in the best interest of the student. The second is that you do not want to make decisions that compromise the quality of your program. These principles are evident in our program and courses. They are also reflected in the work and actions of our graduates.  

Your influence is strong and far-reaching and you will continue to have an impact on the mathematics learning of students even after he has retired. 

Congratulations, Lee, on a successful and impactful career. We will miss you at NC State. 

Karen Hollebrands

Good day, My Brother.

Thank you for serving as a role model for us as black men. Many of us in the College aspire to be like you Most of us as black people don’t have people in our families who have earned doctorate degrees, especially in STEM.

So, I met you when I was an undergrad (yeah, you probably don’t remember) back in 1986 or 1987. I wanted to change my major from engineering to math education, but you told me that it would take three years to earn my math education degree from State. Anyway, it’s crazy that I came back less than 20 years later. I appreciate your support of the MSEN program. 

You have a long life ahead of you. Enjoy those grandchildren and your daughters! Feel free to reach out to me at any time. 
Braska Williams

Thank you for your incredible service to NC State and to the community at-large, Lee. I am so proud that we’ve had the chance to work together. As someone who has interacted with teachers a lot over the years, I am particularly grateful for all that you have done to impact the science and practice of teaching. 

As a member of the College of Education Board, I’m grateful for your partnership in advancing the mission of the Board and our impact on philanthropy and outreach. 

Yours is an incredible legacy, my friend, and your influence, your kindness, your integrity, and your wisdom have made a lasting difference. 

Mike Ward ’77BS, ’81MS, ’93EDD
Professor of Practice in Educational Leadership
Chair, NC State College of Education Board
Former North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction


Thank you for your service. You have been a true leader, colleague and friend.

You have taught us all what we should strive to be.

“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions,  and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.” — General Douglas MacArthur

I appreciate the opportunity of working with you and being part of your Team. You made it fun and memorable.God Bless you and your family on your next great adventure.
Mary M. Morris