Former Corning Community College (CCC) Professor Herbert I. Gross was awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters by the State University of New York (SUNY) Board of Trustees. This honorary degree is a fitting acknowledgment of Gross’ significant contributions to mathematics education.
Throughout his 55-year career of innovative teaching, publications, and service, Gross focused on his goal of reducing mathematical illiteracy in society. His commitment continues to this day through his signature pedagogy “Math as a Second Language.” This free course is offered through the open-access website mathasasecondlanguage.com, and it is currently offered as a summer workshop in the Corning-Painted Post school district in conjunction with CCC and Corning Enterprises.
Gross was working as a graduate student/teaching assistant when the president of CCC invited him to be founding chair for the new college’s mathematics department. At CCC from 1958-68, Gross pioneered distance education through Corning’s Educational Television Network. He then returned to MIT’s Center for Advanced Engineering Study where he developed a video refresher course for engineering executives returning to graduate study. Over 55,000 engineers, technicians, and scientists from six continents have taken the course, which is still available on MIT’s website (ocw.mit.edu).
His five years at MIT affirmed Gross’ belief in self-paced learning and ignited a passion for teaching students challenged by the traditional pace of higher education. As Gross puts it: “MIT gave me the necessary knowledge to teach mathematics, but it was witnessing the fear of math that so many community college students suffer that fueled my determination to present the concepts of mathematics in terms that made sense.” Gross moved on from MIT to found another mathematics department, this time at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, Mass., where he worked for 30 years until his retirement in 2003.
Gross’ service to his discipline extended well beyond teaching. He published three textbooks and authored 26 volumes of study guides, many supplemented with video lectures. His “Gateway to Mathematics” program was endorsed by North Carolina’s community college system and department of corrections. Collaborating with his brother, University of Vermont Professor Kenneth I. Gross, Herb created the Vermont Mathematics Initiative, a statewide professional development initiative designed to address insufficient mathematics training of elementary school teachers. He was also the founding president of both the New York State Mathematics Association of Two Year Colleges (NYSMATC) and the American Mathematics Association of Two Year Colleges (AMATYC).
SUNY’s honorary degree is the latest of Gross’ acknowledgements, which include being named the nation’s Outstanding Community College Instructor by the American Association of Community Colleges and twice named the nation’s Outstanding Educator by the Volunteers of America in Hagerstown, MD. NYSMATC cited Gross for Outstanding Contributions to Mathematics Education, and AMATYC has invited him to keynote their annual conference in the fall of 2014. Gross is considering the invitation but recognizes with his characteristic humor that, at this point in his life, he should “mathematically” be wary of long-term commitments. What Gross should know with certainty is the great benefit his work has had and will continue to have on students and educators.