Professor Marco Varisco

“Every semester, every course is an edifying experience. Almost a piece of art.” (Charles Marshall, Professor Emeritus of Computer Science/Clarkson U and SUNY Potsdam, frequent attendee of Professor Varisco’s advanced topology courses)

Professor Marco Varisco arrives at his classes five minutes before they start just to talk to his students. His office hours have been called a formality; Professor Varisco gets to campus early, leaves late, and his door is almost always open. He holds his scheduled discussion sections and augments them with ad hoc meetings to help those struggling. The sheer amount of grading he does each week reflects an approach to education built around constant formative evaluation of student learning that informs instruction. Storytelling is the foundation of his teaching philosophy, with each course and each lecture having, as he writes, “a clear beginning, development, and conclusion…I try to emphasize and transmit not only the effectiveness of mathematics, but also its beauty.”

Simply put, Professor Varisco is an accessible mathematician who recognizes that sometimes, to some students, the advanced mathematics he teaches is not.

In their evaluations, Professor Varisco’s students cite his availability and willingness to help as his greatest strengths. Seven of his undergraduate students write, “He would completely cover entire lectures if we did not understand something. He would walk us through problem sets until we grasped the concepts. There were even times where he would lend out his personal textbooks in order to further our math education.” In addition, students report that Professor Varisco delivers complex course material in a way that is understandable, a “perfect mix” of theory and application the belies a deep knowledge of the subject matter that allows him answer any question even on the most seemingly unrelated concepts. His graduate students write, “[He] wants his students to grasp the larger picture rather than a single question or problem.”

Professor Varisco’s colleagues on the faculty are equally impressed with his teaching ability. As fellow scholars mathematics, they fully appreciate how much care Professor Varisco takes in evaluating student work, in calibrating his answers when he speaks to different students, and in differentiating his instruction based on varying levels of academic preparation without compromising standards so that every individual in his classes can engage in the topic. By all accounts, Professor Varisco is a talented lecturer; he not only delivers beautiful mathematical exposition, but he engages his students in the subject, keeps them involved, introduces abstract concepts and illustrates them with concrete examples.

When a fellow mathematics professor began pursuing research problems slightly outside of his established body of work, he decided to sit in on graduate course taught by Professor Varisco. The experience left an indelible impression and his description summarizes why Professor Varisco received this year’s award:

“The way this course was taught and organized was a revelation. It is difficult to imagine that such a highly abstract and complicated material can be presented in such a lucid and accessible way, and yet completely without compromise in mathematical rigor. And this goes not only for the theorems and their proofs, but also for the intuition behind them. It was the best graduate or undergraduate course I had ever attended, period.”

For more information about Professor Varisco’s teaching and scholarship, visit his faculty page at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

Steven Plotnick, Boris Goldfarb, Alexandre Tchernev, John Delano, and Jay Oddi contributed to this article