hen mathematics professor Rita Hibschweiler describes her work, she could
just as easily be describing a musician sitting down to compose or a poet
sitting down to write. “What I love
about math, is that a person can use its beautiful language to figure
something out,” says Hibschweiler, whose expertise, complex analysis,
is the purest of pure math—an engagement with the mathematical rules
and functions of imaginary numbers. “I can sit
down with pencil and paper or just stare into space for long periods of
time. After a while, I may understand something I didn’t understand
the previous day. That is a thrilling feeling.” Hibschweiler holds enormous respect for her chosen discipline,
as well as for those who undertake its rigors and challenges. It’s
a respect she has readily extended to her students at UNH, with whom she
has shared her love of math for nearly 15 years. “I believe that the heart of good scholarship is
to be proud,” says Hibschweiler, “not of one’s own contribution,
but of the entire community of mathematicians. Proud of being a part of
such a creative community.” Professor Ken Appel, who chairs the math department, says
that even students who do poorly in her classes respect her efforts and
high standards. “Anyone who can give a course as tough as Rita’s
and maintain the respect she gets has a unique talent,” says Appel.
“Students respect her for what they come away with.” When it comes to teaching her classes in Kingsbury Hall,
Hibschweiler makes it very clear that the proof, so to speak, is in the
pudding. “Teaching is all about the lesson at hand. Have you taught
the material or haven’t you?” she asks. And the answer? “Rita’s course in topology—a highlevel
area of math that studies the properties of sets—helped me more than
any course I’d ever taken when I got to graduate school,” says
Julie Raye ’97. Raye is now a Ph.D. candidate in applied mathematics
at North Carolina State University. “Rita makes the subject comprehensible,
but also challenging. She has a way of asking us to work hard, but also
of giving us the opportunity to be successful.” Brandon Michaud ’02 took Hibschweiler’s courses
in Mathematical Proof and Real Analysis. “Rita’s very patient
and thorough,” observes the math education major. “What we cover
in class prepares us to be successful on projects, or on exams.”
Michaud says he looks forward to the day when he will “share his
love of math” with high school students. Beside the material, students also remember certain human
equations. “I make a great effort to encourage any hardworking student,”
says Hibschweiler. She defines a good student as “one who loves math
and is willing to work hard.” In that spirit, Hibschweiler does not
evaluate solely on seeing the right answer written on the dotted line.
Rather she evaluates a student’s overall effort. “Because mathematics
is a language,” Hibschweiler notes, “the analysis of a problem
counts, not just the answer. It’s a way of thinking.” Hibschweiler says her proudest moments as a teacher come
when former students stop by after a class, perhaps long after she taught
them, to let her know that her teaching made a difference. “They ask me a math question, ask for a reference,
or just let me know they think I did a good job,” says Hibschweiler.
“I am touched by their sincere appreciation.” —David Moore, University Publications


