Caplenor Award winner impacts current and future educators

COOKEVILLE – The 2022 Caplenor Faculty Research Award winner at Tennessee Tech University has a goal of impacting practicing math teachers, and hopes her research makes it into the hands of classroom teachers and really changes the practice of teaching mathematics in K-12 throughout the state, nation and beyond.

Holly Anthony, curriculum and instruction professor at Tech, is the first woman to receive the award in 25 years and only the third to receive it in the history of 41 awards given out by the university. She is also the third scholar, and the first woman scholar, recipient in the university’s College of Education to receive it.

The Caplenor Faculty Research Award, established in 1984 in honor of the late Dr. Charles Donald Caplenor, former Associate Vice President for Research and Dean of Instructional Development, is awarded annually to one member of the faculty of Tennessee Tech University for outstanding research accomplished while employed at the University.

“As a researcher in mathematics education, my ultimate goal is to improve the teaching of mathematics in the state of Tennessee, in the Upper Cumberland region in the state of Tennessee and nationally and maybe internationally. We’ll see if I can get there,” Anthony said.

Anthony is a mathematics educator housed in the College of Education, which is a little bit atypical. At most other institutions across the state her position is housed in a mathematics department.

“I’ve been fortunate at Tennessee Tech, to have the privilege of working in both departments. And so, while my home department is curriculum and instruction, I do teach in the mathematics department here as well on a halftime load each semester,” Anthony said. “I feel like I have the best of both worlds.”

Anthony is in her 23rd year of teaching with the last 18 being at Tech. She has interactions with her students daily, which she says is her favorite part of her job. She still does advising for her undergraduate secondary education majors in upper division and she enjoys that “one-on-one connection.”

“I’ve been busy this spring observing them in their practicum observations out in K-12 schools preparing to teach,” she said. “That’s one of my favorite things to do because not only do I get to see my students in practice, but I also get to see the teachers in the region in practice.”

Anthony is from Livingston and said coming to Tech was “coming back home” for her, although she was never a student here. She obtained a bachelor’s in mathematics at Middle Tennessee State University, which she followed up with a master’s degree in educational leadership also at MTSU. After she taught high school for a while, she went on to get her Ph.D. in mathematics education from the University of Georgia.

She did not start out with the goal of being an educator. She started out doing mathematics, following her dad’s advice that “if you can do math, you can do anything.” She obtained her bachelor’s in mathematics and a minor in education, just as her “backup plan.”

She started teaching college algebra as part of her assistantship when she was working on her master’s degree. She found that she loved it, loved working with the students, loved teaching the content and seemed to have a knack for that and students tended to respond well.

“It just became my life, and I’m so glad that I fell into education. I couldn’t have fallen into anything better, it’s very rewarding, and I enjoy every day, which is fortunate for me to be able to do this for 23 years, and every day still look forward to what I do,” Anthony said. “My favorite part of the day is actually teaching. That is an indicator that I chose the right profession, and I’m where I should be.”

Anthony said the education program at Tech has changed during her time at the university, growing with all the technological advances that came along. She feels that both the department of curriculum and instruction, as well as College of Education in general, are very attuned to the best practices.

“We pay attention to the national movements and the things that are happening in education, nationally and internationally, and we’re working hard to make sure that our candidates are the best prepared, not only in the state of Tennessee, but anywhere that they might choose to go and teach.”

The programs are constantly changing and evolving, or if the courses have stayed the same, the content has changed, according to Anthony. The faculty are always innovating and updating, and she thinks that’s part of just being part of an education program.

“If we’re not growing and changing and learning ourselves, we’re not doing a good job preparing our students for the environments in which they’re going to work,” Anthony said. “Lots of things have changed, all for the better, to keep our students at the forefront of what’s best practice in teaching.”

Anthony said she was honored by her nomination for the Caplenor Award. The nomination came from a colleague in engineering who had been on a committee with her but that she had not worked with directly. She had been nominated a few years ago by a colleague in nursing, and her application had gone through and was reviewed but did not advance.

“That’s fully understandable, there’s lots of excellent researchers on this campus. It’s a very competitive process, and so to find out that I was being encouraged to put my name in the pool again was a really an honor,” Anthony said “And it’s very humbling, especially when it comes from a colleague that you haven’t worked directly with, who’s not as familiar with your work, and yet they recognize there’s some promise there.”

Anthony said that winning the award was a huge milestone in her career, and she was overwhelmed when she got the call from President Phil Oldham.

“I was truly overwhelmed, I was very emotional, because it means a lot. Everybody on campus, the whole faculty works hard all the time in lots of different areas,” Anthony said. “It’s really nice when you’re recognized in any of those areas, but to be recognized for your research is especially humbling, and truly an honor.”

Anthony plans to “keep doing what I’m doing, I love where I’m at and I love what I’m doing.” She will also participate in the Tech Tomorrow Strategic Planning Initiative on campus as one of the faculty leads. She will be working in the innovation area and will be looking for opportunities to help Tech innovate and bring new ideas to all the things that are done on campus.

She also plans to move to a more international platform. She has worked over the last four years to bring opportunities to campus for students to do their student teaching abroad. They can go overseas to learn about other cultures, to immerse themselves in those cultures through homestays and to really find out what education can look like outside of the educational experience here in the United States.

“I think that’s one of the legacies that I would like to leave behind, this idea of the value of going abroad, learning about other cultures and thinking about how you can bring that insight to students in rural Tennessee if that’s where you find yourself teaching and working as a future teacher,” Anthony said.

Anthony said she is truly proud of winning the Caplenor award, however it is the accomplishments of her students that she takes great pride in.

“Some of the proudest moments that I have are when I see my own students succeed in their classrooms and when they receive awards, and so those are some of the things that I really appreciate,” Anthony said. “You hope that the greatest impact you can have in your career is to leave it a better place than when you got here. Hopefully, mathematics teaching in the Upper Cumberland has improved because I was here, even if it’s only a couple of classrooms, for a couple of students. I think that makes it all worthwhile.”

Anthony credits her colleagues on the various papers she has collaborated on for her success. She said she works best when she works with others.

“I didn’t do this on my own, the research that I’ve done, the papers that I’ve written, the presentations that I’ve given, they’ve been part of a collaborative that’s much bigger than myself. I think that’s where the good stuff happens. I think when we get siloed in our own areas, we lose ourselves in our own work and we don’t realize the potential for those kinds of collaborations. And so, I would just say this, this was not just me.” She notes the support of excellent administrators and colleagues as integral to the opportunities she has had for success.

Anthony also credits her family, her daughter who “is the center of my world” and husband who’s “very supportive,” for her success.

“Without them, none of this is possible because they do a lot of juggling of their own lives so that I can juggle my life to make all these kinds of things happen. I appreciate all the opportunities that I’ve had here, and I appreciate all the opportunities that Tech has allowed me to have.”

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