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MC Math Professor’s Accomplishments, Commitment to Students Add Up to Distinguished Faculty Award

Melinda Gann, professor of mathematics at Mississippi College, said receiving the Distinguished Faculty of the Year Award reflects the outstanding teachers, professors, and colleagues she has learned from throughout her life.
Melinda Gann, professor of mathematics at Mississippi College, said receiving the Distinguished Faculty of the Year Award reflects the outstanding teachers, professors, and colleagues she has learned from throughout her life.

Melinda Gann has a simple formula for why she has devoted her career to teaching mathematics.

“I tell my students, there are 24 hours in a day, and you work at least eight hours a day at your job,” the tenured professor of mathematics at Mississippi College said. “So, you spend a third of your life at work. No amount of money is worth a third of your life.

“Find what lights you up. I love teaching, and I love teaching at MC.”

Gann has lit up the Department of Mathematics for more than three decades, passing on her wisdom in such challenging classes as calculus I and II, college algebra, trigonometry, elementary statistics, finite mathematics, applied calculus, and many more. Her contributions to the Christian University were recognized during the institution’s Central Ceremony May 4, when she received the Distinguished Faculty of the Year Award.

“It was a surprise and an honor,” Gann said of the announcement. “Knowing who has won it before, I am humbled even to be associated with those remarkable faculty members at MC.

“Throughout my life, outstanding teachers, professors, and colleagues have poured into me, and I am deeply grateful for each one. I’ve watched and learned from the best. This award really belongs to them.”

Her colleagues know Gann’s place among the most accomplished instructors at Mississippi College is well deserved. According to David H. Magers, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, her many students are proof.

“For over 30 years, my chemistry students have told me how much they loved Dr. Gann’s calculus classes and how much they learned,” Magers said. “I also know this latter point to be true because many of our upper-level chemistry courses are calculus heavy.

“Students who learned their calculus with Melinda are always prepared.”

Her colleague, John Travis, professor of mathematics who once taught her while she was pursuing her Masters of Combined Sciences at MC and was later chair, said Gann’s dedication to her students is incalculable. For example:

“It’s 5:30 p.m. on a random weekday, and the lights are still on,” Travis said. “Some random student from a service course can only meet after work, and Melinda’s last class was over several hours ago. Yet she patiently remains, embraces the moment, and captures the straggler who just needs that fragment of assurance that comes from a professor whose heart and mind are in unison.

“Melinda’s life is one of congruence – her actions align with her words, which align with her beliefs, which align with her ideals. With Melinda, you get no masks. Her at home, her at work, her at church, her whenever – you ask her, and she responds with truth and not merely what you want to hear.”

That honesty is borne from her deep commitment to God’s word.

“My faith is who I am – it’s integral,” Gann said. “It naturally comes out when I teach. I don’t try to make it fit; it just fits. I’m very upfront about my faith. It comes out in class, and it comes out appropriately.

“The idea that I can literally pray with my students, that I can mentor them, is fabulous. Separate from ‘Can you please help me with my math?’ some of them will ask, ‘Can you please talk about this life issue with me?’ We can talk about their faith and their struggles and their pain, and you have something to give them that’s not just you.”

Gann said the relationships with her students and the life lessons revealed through mathematics have sustained her interest throughout her impressive career.

“I am fascinated by the process of problem-solving,” she said. “The same way you solve a problem in real life is the same way you solve a math problem. A sociologist has given a definition of hope that is the exactly the same as the definition of problem-solving. When I teach students how to solve problems, I am literally teaching them how to hope.

“Hope is necessary for people to have a high quality of life.”

Occasionally she encounters a student who doesn’t have a lot of hope when it comes to math. Many people find the subject can be overwhelming. That’s because they never had Gann as a teacher.

“They’ve always assumed the problem was them,” she said. “Most of the time, when students say they don’t like math, they see somebody’s face. They remember that when they were younger, someone made them feel stupid or inadequate or ashamed about the subject. I tell them that that’s on the teacher or that person, that’s not on them.

“I may not be able to make them fabulous at math, but everyone can do it. I just need them to trust me. When they do, the vast majority of them aren’t just adequate at math – they’re successful at it. And it changes their perception of themselves and their possibilities when they realize they’re not bad at it at all.”

Gann earned her B.S. in mathematics education at Mississippi State University and taught high school math before following her husband, Don Gann, to Mississippi College, where he was serving as director of the Baptist Student Union. While pursuing her master’s at MC, the late Dr. James Burnside, longtime chair of mathematics, offered her a faculty position upon graduation.

“I felt like I had won the golden ticket with Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” Gann said. “It was a God thing. Dr. Burnside told me he thought I would fit in well here, so I stayed.”

Not only did she stay, but her career – and her students – thrived. She obtained her Ph.D. in science (mathematics) education from the University of Southern Mississippi and progressed through the MC Department of Mathematics from instructor to tenured professor. At various times, she served as interim chair of the department, co-chair of the Core Revision Working Group, and chair of the Academic Honor Board. She authored the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation Secondary Mathematics Education initial report and response report, and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education Specialty Professional Association secondary mathematics report.

A member of the NCATE Committee, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Committee, and the Quality Enhancement Plan Committee, Gann has served as a mathematics consultant for the Mississippi Department of Education. She has served as a keynote speaker at numerous statewide mathematics conferences. She is an active member of several professional associations, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Mississippi Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the Mississippi Collegiate Mathematics Association – for whom she has served as president and vice-president twice.

Her personal living arrangements exemplify her unparalleled dedication to her students at Mississippi College. Don left MC years ago to serve as pastor of Wynndale Baptist Church in Terry. He later served as the men’s ministry director for the Mississippi Baptist Convention and ultimately became pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford. For the last five years, Gann has lived in Clinton during the week and joined her husband in Oxford during weekends and holidays.

“I didn’t want to leave MC,” she said. “I’m blessed that I can stay in the job that I love, and he can be where the Lord has called him. People might say, ‘Why don’t you just get a job at Ole Miss?’ I wouldn’t be able to integrate my faith at a state school the way I can at MC. And that’s who I am.

“I’m not willing to go to another job where I can’t be who I am.”

Gann’s students have returned her affection by dedicating the 2015 Tribesmen Yearbook in her honor and making her the first recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Award selected by the Student Government Association of Mississippi College, among other honors. She considers her relationship with the students her greatest achievement at MC.

“I am completely humbled that this award is from my peers, but the people who really know if I do a good job are the students,” she said. “To have my students say that I teach mathematics clearly and in a way that they can understand – that I show them that they can do it and make them believe in themselves – that’s what I’m most proud of.

“I appreciate that I get to be in a place where I can do the thing I love with people that I love and entwine my two great loves – my love of teaching, particularly mathematics, and my love of Jesus. Most of the time, you don’t get to do both of those in the same job. MC is a very special place.”