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Last modified: Friday, April 13, 2012

Yi Cheng

The Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award

Professor of Mathematical Sciences
Department of Mathematical Sciences
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Indiana University South Bend
Appointed to IU faculty, 1994
B.S., East China Normal University, 1982
M.S., Purdue University, 1988
Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1992

The classroom has always been a familiar place to Yi Cheng, who grew up in a family of educators. Her teaching philosophy can be attributed in part to her grandmother, a middle school teacher, who believed the key to teaching success was implementing a wide variety of activities both in and out of the classroom.

Her scholarship and dedication to the field of mathematics, as well as its subsequent practice and application, have awarded her recognition on a national level. As an experienced statistician, she brings a valuable perspective to the degree programs in mathematics and applied mathematics. Cheng's work has appeared in a diverse assortment of peer-reviewed publications, including Biometrika, Biostatistics, Biometrics, The Journal of Statistical Planning and Inference, and Sequential Analysis.

What makes Cheng's performance even more impressive is the tremendous rapport she has with her students. Michael R. Darnel, a colleague whose office is down the hall from Cheng's, writes, "I can say truthfully that students are nearly always in her office, and actively seek her help and counsel."

Cheng has served on the committees of numerous student theses and has been an influential presence in the mentorship and encouragement of female students. Dana Vrajitoru, associate professor of computer and information sciences, was part of the graduate committee that Cheng directed and can personally attest to her exemplary work as a graduate advisor: "Typically students start by taking one of Dr. Cheng's classes, and the positive experience inspires them to continue working on the subject in the form of a thesis. The projects I have seen as a result have always been up to the highest professional standards."

Twice, Cheng was awarded the prestigious Indiana University South Bend Trustees' Teaching Award; she was also the recipient of the Indiana University South Bend Teaching Excellence Recognition Award.

According to Alfred Guillaume, vice chancellor for academic affairs, Cheng believes teaching mathematics is a kind of art. "Her teaching statement radiates the same energy and passion for teaching that she has as a researcher," he says. "She speaks eloquently of the value of mathematics in daily life, but also of the beauty and elegance that are naturally inherent in the application of mathematics. For her, teaching is a journey that naturally leads to student competence and success in mathematics."

This journey, for Cheng, is an assortment of what she calls "multiple factors: enthusiasm, inspiration, strategies, communication, the depth and broadness of subject knowledge, and dedication." Cheng sees her position as an instructor as ever expanding. While her evaluations are overwhelmingly positive, her classes are undeniably rigorous, and students learn to appreciate the challenging material with Cheng as their guide.

When Cheng first arrived at IU South Bend, she was influential in revitalizing the curriculum for courses in the nursing program and for the master's degree programs in applied mathematics and computer science. She also was the first to teach several newly offered classes, which challenge her to integrate unfamiliar material and tailor it to students from a wide spectrum of backgrounds -- including nonmajors, majors and graduate students.

"She has a way of making you listen to her not because you have to, but because you want to," says Sushma Agarwal, one of Cheng's colleagues. "She leads by example."

Linda Chen, another of Cheng's colleagues, says Cheng is adept at defusing the anxiety and discomfort that preoccupy many of the students who fill her classrooms. "She empowers her students to try their best by creating a classroom environment that is welcoming, a safe place to make mistakes, and she engages the students in active learning. Abstract math concepts are applied to concrete, everyday principles." Each semester, more than 275 students benefit from the Mathematics in the World course that Cheng was largely responsible for designing.

The results of her passion have not gone unnoticed. According to Doug McMillen, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Cheng "has a well-deserved reputation of making difficult mathematical constructs accessible to students and is considered one of the best teachers, in any discipline, on our campus."