To John Hamman, mathematics is music.
“It is the language in which the universe is written — really pure and beautiful,” Hamman said.
More than anything, the Montgomery College professor wants his students to realize the true beauty of his profession.
Hamman's students and supervisor say his enthusiasm is what helped him earn the title of 2012 Maryland Professor of the Year.
Hamman, chair of the mathematics department at Montgomery College's Germantown campus, was recognized this month at an awards ceremony by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.
The award recognizes professors who have excelled in teaching and learning and who have had a positive impact on their students, institutions, community and profession, according to the foundation's website.
It is the fourth year in a row that a Montgomery College professor has earned the title, and the sixth time in the last nine years.
Hamman said he is honored and proud to share the title with others at the college.
It is his energy that sets him apart from other professors, his students said.
Hamman, 40, of Smithsburg, has been teaching at the college level for 13 years. He has a graduate degree in math and an undergraduate degree in math and physics, both from the University of Northern Iowa. This year, he received both the Faculty Outstanding Service Award and the National Institute for Staff Organizational Development Award for his service. He also is an active member of the Mathematical Association of America.
Hamman said he never seriously considered another profession besides teaching — he enjoys the interactions with students, and constantly learning.
“Almost every day, I get asked a question where I say, 'I don't know,'” he said.
Hamman is an outstanding professor who knows how to teach students to find joy in accepting a challenge, said Margaret Latimer, associate dean for instructional programs of business, science, mathematics and technology at the college's Germantown campus.
“He leaves students not just with knowledge, but with the ability to gain knowledge,” Latimer said.
He is dedicated not only to his students, but also to the college, Latimer said.
A few years ago, he helped Montgomery College roll out a new computer-based developmental math program.
He was instrumental in the process, and helped work out all of the kinks, Latimer said.
Hamman said he would consider a more administrative role in the college, but he said even in his role now as math chair he wishes he was teaching more. He is teaching two courses this semester: linear algebra and math/political science.
Michael Varghese of Germantown, a student of Hamman's, said Hamman makes himself available to help students in all of their coursework, not just math.
“He puts in the extra effort, and always offers to help,” Varghese said.
Hamman's energy translates into the classroom, laughing with his students throughout the lesson.
Sometimes, his questions received blank stares, and his students questions' sometimes took him more than five minutes to answer. But by the end, each student agreed that they were “cool with it.”
“He is just so darn personable,” said Meghan Hughes of Germantown, a student in the class. “He is just so charismatic.”
Hamman said he recognizes that his enthusiasm may help his students stay interested during class, but he said the subject matter truly is the interesting part.
“The analogies [comparing math] to music are appropriate,” he said. “When you sit down and work and quiet your mind, there really is a beautiful part of it.”