This article originally appeared in the Summer 2016 edition of Centrepiece, the College alumni magazine.
“I have a hard time believing that there are better jobs than the ones I have had,” says Christine Shannon, who retired this spring as Haggin Professor Emerita of Computer Science and Mathematics.
Shannon joined the mathematics faculty at Centre in 1989—the first person ever hired at Centre at the rank of full professor, after a number of years at Georgetown College. Over the course of her career, teaching has changed in many ways, she says, “from preparing tests on a typewriter using ditto paper to word processors and fancy graphics, from slide rules to powerful computers on every desk.”
Her research has appeared in such academic journals as Pacific Journal of Mathematics and Journal of Computers and Graphics. An article, “Flipping the Analysis Classroom,” will soon be published in the journal PRIMUS. But she is first of all a teacher.
“I love the classroom and the chance to engage students,” she says. “I want them to think, not just memorize. My best moments come when I can see that the student ‘saw it’ and finally understood.”
A first-generation college graduate, Shannon became interested in mathematics at an early age. When Marygrove College offered her a one-year scholarship, she accepted eagerly.
“I am convinced it changed the course of my life,” she says.
A literature professor at Marygrove encouraged Shannon to consider graduate study.
“It seemed like a splendid idea—I always liked the newest math I was learning, and the prospect of teaching calculus and other upper-level courses was even better,” she says. “At that time, while it was common for women to become middle and high school math teachers, it was certainly not common for them to pursue graduate study in mathematics.”
After graduating from Marygrove at the top of her class, Shannon earned a Ph.D. at Purdue University.
“I received one of the seven percent of math doctorates that were awarded to women that year,” she recalls.
She later earned a master’s degree in computer science at the University of Kentucky while teaching full time.
An important Centre leader, she has been program chair, division chair, and faculty president—as well as participant at a dizzying array of campus events. A talented teacher, she has received Centre’s Kirk Award for excellence in teaching as well as the Distinguished Teaching Award from the Kentucky section of the Mathematical Association of America, which also gave her its award for Meritorious Service.
The many students Shannon has taught in her 27 years at the College have found success in a variety of careers, including at top tech companies.
“I will never work at Google or Amazon, but I have former students who do, and I am very proud of them,” says Shannon. “It is especially gratifying when they tell me something they learned in my class was particularly useful, and I regularly retell those stories to current students.”
After they graduate, Shannon’s students stay in her life, which she enjoys.
“A card or email or visit from former students is always the best present,” she says. “Just a few weeks ago at a [Centre] open house for rising high school seniors, I introduced myself to a parent only to learn I had taught her in 1986 and that she’s been a successful high school math teacher ever since.”
Looking back on her career, Shannon appreciates the sense of kinship and the encouragement to learn she found and fostered at Centre.
“As I retire, I have nothing but gratitude for the opportunities I have had,” she says. “My colleagues and my students have provided opportunities to learn about things I never would have imagined when I started, and to share in a community of scholars. I could not have asked for more.”
by Elizabeth Trollinger
July 6, 2016