The Morgan-Potsdam Model and The
Clarence F. Stephens receives the MAA Gung-Hu Award for the Pottsdam Miracle
The Morgan-Potsdam Model is the name given to a method of the teaching of mathematics developed by Dr. Clarence F. Stephens at Morgan State University and refined at the State University of New York College at Potsdam. In the 1980's, Uri Treismann, of the University of California, independently discovered a few of Dr. Stephens techniques in what is sometimes called the Group Method.
Prior to Dr. Clarence F. Stephens arrival at Morgan State University (then College) as Chairman of the Mathematics Department in 1947, no student from that institution had gone on to earn a masters degree in the Mathematical Sciences. Between 1947 and 1962, he discovered and developed the keys to his method. H is first student to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics was Earl Embree (Universiity of Michigan 1963). Four of his students, (Barnes, Grainger, Moore, and Williams) from the 1964 class (of 10 Math Majors) all went on to earn a doctorate - Earl Barnes (University of Maryland 1968), Arthur Grainger (University of Maryland 1972), and Scott Williams (Lehigh University 1969) all obtained a Ph.D. in Mathematics. Below is a list of Dr. Stephens' students at Morgan who went on to earn the doctorate.
sitting Clarence and Harriet Stephens
standing former Morgan students (l. to r.) Grainger, Barnes, Reese, Williams
One of Dr. Stephens undergraduate students, Marlene Gewand, from the State University of New York College at Geneseo went on to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics (State University of New York at Buffalo - Topology 1978) under the direction of another former student, Dr. Scott Williams.
For over 100 years the State University of New York College at Potsdam (SUNYC-Potsdam) was a school which primarily trained teachers of secondary education. Prior to Dr. Clarence F. Stephens arrival at SUNYC-Pottsdam as Chairman of the Mathematics Department in 1969, no student from that institution had gone on to earn a Ph.D degree in the Mathematical Sciences. At SUNYC-Potsdam, Dr. Stephens refined his methods of instruction now known as the Potsdam model. Eleven of Dr. Stephens' SUNYC-Potsdam students have gone on to earn a doctorate. He served as chairman of the mathematics department at Potsdam from 1969 until his retirement in 1987. During his tenure the department became nationally known as a model of teaching excellence in mathematics. For several of these years the program was among the top producers of mathematics majors in the country. The teaching techniques that Professor Stephens introduced at Potsdam, and earlier at Morgan state, have been adopted by many mathematics departments across the country. Below we discuss The Model.
Here is a partial list of Dr. Stephens' students at Morgan who went on to earn the doctorate:
With one exception, we do not have a list of Stephens' students at SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Pottsdam who went on to earn a doctorate. Marlene Gewand, a student of Stephens at SUNY Geneseo went on to earn a Ph.D. under the direction of another former student, Scott Williams, at SUNY at Buffalo, 1978. We would be remiss if we failed to mention that Stephens' Morgan College students earned advanced degrees in many other subjects such as Economics, Medicine, Law, Physics, and Chemisty.
THE MODEL (to be completed later)
Clarence Stephens' connection with SUNY Potsdam began in the spring of 1969, when he was on the mathematics faculty of SUNY Geneseo and visited the Potsdam campus to give a talk sponsored by the Seaway Section of the MAA. The faculty at Potsdam were so impressed by his ideas on mathematics and teaching undergraduates that they began a campaign to have him come to the campus as the Chair of the Mathematics Department. He went to Potsdam in the fall of 1969 and retired from there in 1987.
Here are Stephens'own words about his goal as Chair, as reported in the book Math Education at its Best: The Potsdam Model (MEAIB), by Dilip Datta.
"My primary goal as Chair was to help establish the most favorable conditions I could for students to learn and teachers to teach. I adopted a method for developing the mathematics potential of students at Potsdam which had worked very well at Morgan State College and in National Science Foundation Summer Institutes for secondary teachers of mathematics. A team of mathematics faculty members with me as a member was formed to teach students in their early (freshman and sophomore years for undergraduates-first year for graduate students) study of mathematics, "How to Read Mathematics Literature with Understanding and to Become Independent Learners." A person selected for the team was a person who, in my opinion, had a warm relation with beginning students, strong loyalty to the department and the college. The team was informally formed by the way courses were assigned without informing faculty members that they were members of the team. Since each member of the mathematics faculty was given an opportunity to teach across the mathematics curriculum, every effort was made to add as many members to the team as possible.
"Sometimes I would teach a section of the same course with team members, and often I would teach a following required course for the mathematics major. From my earlier experiences at Morgan State College and in National Science Foundation Summer Institutes, if team members were successful in reaching their goal, then I had confidence that any caring mathematics faculty member could effectively teach the students developed by the team. Also, the students who were developed by the team would help us teach other students as tutors. The indicated method for developing the mathematics potential of students was as effective at SUNY Potsdam as it had been at Morgan State College."
And effective it certainly was. Though SUNY Potsdam is a relatively small regional state college with a total enrollment of just over 4,000 students during Stephens' time there, in 1985 the college graduated 184 mathematics majors, the third largest number of any institution in the U.S. that year (exceeded only by two University of California campuses). This represented about a quarter of the degrees given by SUNY Potsdam that year, and over 40% of the institution's honor students were mathematics majors.
The Potsdam Miracle was not in any sense accomplished by lowering standards, but rather by raising the standards for teaching the students and providing a supportive environment for them. It would take much more space than is available here to describe all of the innovations that Dr. Stephens implemented that led to the Potsdam Miracle. Portions of the model have been adopted elsewhere by institutions of many different types, particularly since the appearance of Datta's book.
Several articles and a book have been written on the Morgan-Potsdam model - If you have Adobe Acrobat you can read On Attracting and Retaining Mathematics Majors. In preparation is The Stephens Experiment by Gloria Ford Gilmer and Scott W. Williams.
former Morgan students of Stephens:
Congressman Howard P. Rawlings, Gloria Gilmer, and Sylvester Reese
In the preparation of this web page, we had help from Earl Barnes, William Massey, Clarence Stephens, and Gloria Gilmer.
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