Do You Know? Max Coleman

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Photos by Kelly Sue Photography

A simple equation for the day: (Committed + hard-working) X (honest + enthusiastic) X (personable + adventurous) = _____________. Meet the answer, Dr. Max Coleman, Math Professor and Coordinator for Math Education Program at Sam Houston State University. He is an educator who believes his students can accomplish goals much higher than which even they believe themselves capable. He is the educator every parent wishes for their child.

Tell us about your early years.

I grew up on a farm near the small town of Perrysville, Indiana, where we had a four-room schoolhouse, and my father was the principal and teacher of the 7th and 8th grades. He was a very strict disciplinarian who believed every child could learn and would! After 8th grade, we were bussed across the Wabash to a nearby high school, and they hated seeing us coming, because we set the curve in our classes! My father was also a farmer and had always dreamed I would become a farmer and teacher as well.

What brought you to Texas?

After high school, I attended Indiana State University on an academic scholarship, where I majored in math and minored in chemistry, earning a bachelor of science in 1964, and master of science in 1965. After teaching one year of high school in Indianapolis, Everett Wilson, who was Dean of the College of Science at Sam Houston State University and a lifelong friend of my family, called and wanted me to come to SHSU to teach. He had already talked to my dad and convinced him this was a great opportunity for me. My dear dad understood that and, as hard as it was to give up on his dream for me, he encouraged me toward this opportunity. He was quite a man!

Of course, we were dirt poor like everyone else, and having the money to go was an issue. Everett offered me a $100 honorarium to come and interview for a position. I called the airlines and found a round-trip ticket for $96! I flew to Texas, my first experience in an airplane, spent a weekend viewing the campus and surroundings, and was interviewed. I was offered the position and accepted it on the basis that I would stay for only one year. That was 1966. I loved the school, began making friends, and am still here today!

Max and his wife, Terri

Describe your teaching career and steps toward your doctorate.

I will never forget the very first class I taught at SHSU! It was fall of 1966. I was a skinny, wet-behind-the-ears 23 year-old, brand new to teaching higher education. I walked in the front of the room, glanced around, and immediately saw that the entire back row was filled with war-hardened Vietnam vets. Yes, I was nervous! But, it was the best class I ever taught. They were hungry to learn, excelled beyond my expectations, and we got along great!

When I came to SHSU, only a master’s degree was needed, upon which you earned base pay. Additional pay was added according to hours earned beyond a master’s. Even though I was still planning to go back to Indiana, I ended up taking 15 hours at the University of Houston. About this time, Everett encouraged me to apply for a National Science Foundation Faculty Enhancement Grant. This grant would cover my salary and give me a year of education at another institution. I applied for and received a grant to attend Oklahoma State University. Afterward, I transferred these 30 hours to the University of Houston and finished my doctorate in 1974. I became full professor at SHSU in 1988.

I must admit I accomplished all of this without formulating a course of action. I am not recommending this, however! I had originally hoped to enter the medical field, even to the point of spending time with a local physician in my hometown on his home visits. And, of course, my dad’s plans were for me to teach and farm as he had done. Although those two career paths had merits of their own, I love where I am and what I am doing!

Time for a few of your major accomplishments.

Well, there are some that have special significance to me.

  • I co-authored an article with Dr. Dustin Jones entitled Tapering Timbers: Finding the Volume of Conical Frustums, which was published in the March 2012 edition of The Mathematics Teacher, a publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The front cover featured a photograph bringing attention to our article.
  • For 32 years, SHSU, with the support of Region 6 Educational Service Center, hosted the annual Conference on Teaching of Mathematics 6-12, an in-service event for teachers. I had the privilege of serving as director of this event for most of those years.
  • It was special to be able to obtain grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board from 1993 – 2015 to provide secondary math teachers the opportunity to attend in-service training in the summer, with follow-up sessions during the year.
  • I served as UIL Regional Director for Region III 4A from the mid-80s till last year, conducting the academic and athletic regional competitions for 4A/5A high schools.
  • I am the advisor for all math majors getting secondary certification.

SHSU has seen many changes since you arrived in 1966. Describe these changes and how they have affected you.

Incredible changes have taken place. Enrollment at SHSU was a four-digit number when I came and is now at 20,000. The mathematics department was in the back corner of a room in the Farrington Building and now resides in the Lee Drain building. The Mathematics and Statistics Department consists of three programs, Mathematics, Statistics, and Mathematics Education. I am Coordinator of the Mathematics Education Program. My responsibilities include setting the curriculum with assistance from the other six math educators, and then to facilitate scheduling and instruction for these courses.

No discussion of growth is complete without the mention of technology! We have gone from the slide rule to calculators, computers, and amazing computer software programs. Years ago, prior to having this technology, a student was required to (1) analyze, generalize, and reason through the problem, determining what to do to solve it; and then to (2) do the calculations to find the solution. With technology replacing the need for tedious computations, we now have more time to focus on the first step and improve the higher order thinking skills, allowing students to become more powerful problem solvers.

Another change at SHSU which brings me pride is the well-designed growth of our beautiful campus. I am so proud to show it off! Our growth has allowed us to add new programs such as nursing and forensic science, to name a couple. And we continue to expand, as you can see from the construction that is on-going now!

You have interests outside of education, which include aviation and “keeping the books.” Fill us in.

Yes, I love flying! The first time I was in a small plane was at the Purdue University Flying Club while visiting my brother, who was a student there. I earned my private pilot certificate quickly thereafter and soon was co-owner of a Mooney MK 20A with Everett Wilson. When I attended OSU, I went flying every chance I could, and somehow earned the hours toward my doctorate as well! I eventually sold the plane, but have dreams of buying another one in the future. In fact, I hope to do so and fly the plane up to visit our son Kody, who is attending Purdue and plans to earn his pilot license at the Purdue Flying Club. What a thrill it will be to go flying together in the same place we both began!

Another pastime has been to keep the books at SHSU basketball games. I did this for many years (with Tommy Davis sitting right there running the clock). I’ve always loved basketball and was MVP my junior and senior years in high school. I love the sport!

60th Birthday Celebration

Share how teaching has brought your joy and satisfaction.

That’s easy. It’s the people, the friends, the relationships that are made through the years. It’s being able to encourage students who don’t have confidence in themselves and to watch them excel beyond their own dreams. I tell my students, “Don’t just shoot for Good, but aim for Great!” And when this happens, it’s fantastic and heartwarming. I received a note from a recent graduate who expressed this very sentiment, and it brought me such pleasure to know I had a positive impact on her life.

What are your future plans?

When I do decide to retire, I will continue encouraging people to go beyond their perceived limits and raise the bar on their dreams. Developing leadership skills in people of all ages is a need that begs to be addressed, and I would like to be involved in providing information that will move others toward goals of personal development and financial stability. If a person is teachable, hungry to learn, and honest, they can excel in life. I look forward to this endeavor.

Max’s four children: Kim, Kody, Kyle, and KellieAnne

I have been truly blessed with a beautiful and accomplished wife of 30 years, Terri. She has brought strength and meaning to our family, which includes our wonderful kids Kim, KellieAnne, Kyle, and Kody, and our 4 terrific grandchildren. I am blessed beyond measure with family, friends, colleagues, and students, all who have brought immeasurable pleasure to my life.

Thank you, Dr. Coleman, for bringing such pleasure and encouragement to your family, friends, and students. To sum it all up, you are a TOTAL SUCCESS!

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