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Q&A With Cherry Award Winning Distinguished Professor Hollylynne Lee

Hollylynne Lee

Hollylynne Lee, a distinguished professor of mathematics and statistics education with NC State’s College of Education and a senior faculty fellow with the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, is the 2022 recipient of Baylor University’s highly prestigious Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching.

As the 2022 Cherry Award recipient, Lee will receive a $250,000 award and her home department—the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education—will receive an additional $25,000. She will also teach in residence at Baylor during the 2023 spring semester.

In this Q&A, Lee talks about her strategies for successful teaching, why what teachers do truly matters and what’s next for her. The following is edited from interviews that Lee did with Baylor and NC State, and used with permission.

What does the Cherry Award mean to you?

I am an educator through and through. Having a national-level award that rewards college-level teaching from any discipline says loudly that it is not just what we teach, but how we care for, teach and mentor college students that really matters. This could not have been made truer than during a pandemic.

The significance of this award really became more evident to me the more I learned about the long history of the award, the commitment and vision of Robert Foster Cherry and his family and the amazing contributions and perspectives of the current and past finalists and awardees. It speaks volumes about the commitment that Baylor University has for teaching given the incredible effort that goes into the award process by Baylor faculty and staff.

What are your goals for when you teach at Baylor?

I am so excited and honored to have the opportunity to teach at Baylor, get to know their students and establish partnerships with their faculty. I really want to take this time to immerse myself in thinking deeply about the courses I will teach there and bring back some ideas for designing new courses and research projects here at NC State, hopefully with sustained collaborations with Baylor faculty and staff.

What is your secret to success?

I have three main ingredients: First, collaborate with really smart and fun people whose  perspectives and skills are complementary to mine with a shared commitment to build on good ideas to make them truly innovative. Second, I am not afraid to think outside of the box and challenge myself to do something new. Third, I lean on the supports I have when I need them — in colleagues, family, friends and faith.

What is the secret to being a great teacher?

The secret to being a great teacher is loving the joy of learning, for your students and for yourself. Learning new content and developing new approaches that can engage and excite your students keeps a focus on developing students’ joy in their own learning. Teaching is then a playful and joyful experience.

What message would you give to other teachers, especially in STEM education? 

What we do as teachers really matters — not just because of the important STEM concepts we teach, but how we engage students to get them excited for making sense of their world through developing and applying new knowledge. The past two years have been really rough on teachers at any level — preK-12 through college. 

I am sure that teachers everywhere are reinventing themselves and learning new ways to engage students with content, new tools and new strategies, while enacting compassionate empathy for one another. We all know there have been a lot of struggles and we have tried things that simply did not work out so well. 

I hope teachers take the time to reflect on these growth opportunities and see how their professional identities can become stronger through such struggles. Thanks to all my fellow teachers for persevering and problem solving together to keep learning and emotional well being a top priority for everyone. 

What’s next for you, particularly in terms of advancing the teaching of math and statistics?

I want to make math and statistics relevant to every person’s life and change the experiences they have in schools. My team at the Hub for Innovation and Research in Statistics Education [HI-RiSE] has been working hard at creating learning opportunities in data science and data literacy for students and teachers in K-12 math and science classrooms. 

I want to get meaningful curriculum materials in the hands of teachers so they can change the types of experiences students have with relevant data in their classrooms. 

My work in online professional learning teachers will continue as we launch our new platform and hope to bring in thousands of teachers within the next few years to learn about teaching statistics and data science.