Stephen Bean inspired non-majors to find beauty in mathematical ideas

Associate Professor of Mathematics Stephen Bean inspired non-mathematics majors with his course Great Mathematical Ideas (Math 110), which he taught more than any other class in his 19 years at Cornell College. The course applied words like creativity and beauty to mathematical discoveries past and present.

Stephen Bean“I viewed Math 110 as my chance to pay it forward. In general, when I taught the course, I stayed close to the kinds of subject matter that inspired me,” he said.

Bean’s undergraduate degree was in journalism but he was inspired to study math “because some physicists and mathematicians bothered to write about what they do in ways non-specialists can understand.”

He said he enjoyed talking to Cornell students about their non-academic interests. “That didn’t happen before I came to Cornell. I love talking to them about what they are reading (an incredible variety), their other classes, and their summer activities,” he said.

He also said he enjoyed the synergy developed between faculty and students. Students, he said, can have a “profound effect on faculty” — something we usually think of the other way around.  “Every few years a special group of students comes through,” he said, “and they change the culture of the department and the college because they have so much energy.”

In retirement Bean said he will continue to study math and participate more in his “hobby” of working with border collies herding sheep. And two other things: “More exercise. More sleep.”

Alumni remember Professor Bean

“Thank you for putting up with and participating in Math Club’s shenanigans, like when Pac-Man invaded your stats class!” — Myka Peterson Forrest ’09

‘Thank you so much for everything but especially for your help and feedback with my way-long capstone project. I hope you greatly enjoy what comes next,” — Déjà Hedes ’18

“Thank you for cheering me on through my academic and personal achievements at Cornell! Your courses are some of my favorite college memories!” — Grace Swehla Reed ’14

“You had a tremendous impact on my education, my life, and the lives of many others. Thank you and congratulations on your retirement!” — Rachel Spriggs Cooper ’10

Stephen Bean emeritus citation

For 20 years you have been a valued and integral part of first the Department of Mathematics and later the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Cornell College.  We appreciate that you have shared with us your knowledge, your wisdom, and your wit.

You have taught a wide range of courses including not only those in your area of expertise such as Geometry and Analysis, but also courses far from your comfort zone like Introduction to Statistics. And you approached them all with the same commitment to do your best for all students. In fact, you took on the challenge of creating two vitally important bookend experiences in the department: a first-year writing course, and the departmental capstone course.  You have also risen to the challenge to do your best when the unexpected happens, such as being required to teach your final two courses virtually in the middle of a pandemic, and you’ve done so with an incredibly good-natured approach.  

In your quiet way, you have impacted many students. They have appreciated your thoughtful, well-planned approach to teaching as well as your career advice for majors and college advice for advisees. Your support for Math Club and Problem of the Block are also very much appreciated.

You have been an exceptional department citizen. Your contributions to discussions about everything from book choice for common courses to changing the major have been thoughtful and full of wisdom. In particular, you were instrumental in helping the department prepare for a recent external review and then process the results from that review. You have also committed to taking on several thankless tasks like coordinating the math placement forms and awarding transfer credit year after year so that there would be continuity in those decisions.  

You have also been a wonderful colleague more broadly. While you didn’t speak often at faculty meetings, when you did speak, the faculty listened, knowing what you said would be worth contemplating.  Your organized mind also was a welcome addition to committees that dealt with rules such as Academic Standing and Academic Regulations.

Steve, thank you for all the contributions you have made as a faculty member and mentor at Cornell College.