Mathematical geniuses and comedic geniuses are quite rare. Even more rare are mathematical comedians.
Thursday evening the university was fortunate enough to have Edward B. Burger lecture, sponsored by the Honors Program and the College of Sciences. He is a self proclaimed semi-expert of humor as well as a professor of mathematics.
An esteemed teacher, Burger, who once wrote jokes for Jay Leno, has been in the classroom for more than 20 years. Some of his posts have been at the University of Texas at Austin, Waterloo University and Williams College. Currently he is teaching two courses at Baylor University.
Along with his busy schedule of teaching, Burger has produced teaching videos with Thinkwell. They were part of one of the first interactive virtual textbooks. The videos are online and have been used as textbooks and supplementary material for students.
Freshman honors student and psychology major Brooke Cox watched the videos in her junior year of high school to help in an algebra class she was having difficulties with.
“The Thinkwell videos were really interesting just because he is making direct eye contact through the camera. It is really personal, kind of like you are with a tutor, and they are helping you through the math problems you have,” she said.
Throughout his teaching career, Burger has received numerous awards. Reader’s Digest in 2006 named him America’s best math teacher in the annual “100 Bests of America.” His most recent award was Baylor’s Robert Foster Cherry award which he received in 2010.
Burger had this to say about the award: “The Robert Foster Cherry award for great teaching, (is) probably the biggest award I’ve received because it is a big international prize that is amongst all the English speaking faculty in the world in all subjects, and they only give it once every two years.”
While he certainly appreciates receiving awards like the Cherry award, he finds it more rewarding when a middle school student sends him an e-mail thanking him for helping through one of his video lectures about math.
Burger’s UMHB lecture was titled “Monkeys, Mathematics, and Mischief.”
In spite of the title, the lecture was not strictly mathematical. It was really about the lifelong lessons of learning. At the end of the talk, Burger challenged the students to make the invisible visible.
“By doing so, you will not only see the richness of the individual things that you are thinking about, but you’ll begin to see a new way of looking at everything. It is a habit of living, and it is the greatest habit we can embrace because that’s the habit of living that will enable us to be lifelong learners.”
Many students responded positively, drawn to his warm personality as well as the humorous nature of his lecture. The fact that he wrote jokes for Jay Leno and performed comedy himself earned him the respect of the audience.
Freshman graphic design major Jacob Benton said this about the lecture: “It was a great opportunity that the university gave us to listen to a distinguished academician.”
Not only were students impressed with Burger, but so were the faculty who attended the lecture.
Dr. David Holcomb, professor of political science and director of the Honors Program, was impressed with how down to earth he was and how he seemed to like getting to know students and relating to them.
Holcomb said, “We would love to have him back sometime. Maybe chapel would be a good venue.”