“I love the way we work as a community at Saint Mary’s. I could give a lecture to 200 students. But to me, that’s not what learning is about. Learning is a conversation.” —Associate Professor Mary Connolly
On the south wall of Associate Professor Mary Connolly’s office, there is a poster featuring a runner mid-stride and the words “Pursue your dream. Reach for the best.” It’s an apt intention for the mathematics professor and long-distance runner. She has been pursuing her dreams all her life—whether in mathematics, computer science, or on the blacktop in her sneakers each morning—and she encourages her students to do the same.
Her determination to pursue a career in mathematics, Connolly explains, grew from a long history of intelligent women in her family. “There are four generations of women in mathematics in my family,” she says. “It was natural. I never got the message that there was anything funny about women in mathematics.”
The dedicated mathematician joined the Saint Mary’s faculty 28 years ago when she transferred from an adjunct position at Indiana University South Bend. Connolly originally taught calculus, finite math, and statistics, then returned to graduate school to complete a degree in computer science. She added computer science classes to her repertoire, and took on advisement of students in the Management Information Systems (MIS) major. It is a task she shares with the business administration department, since MIS is a major that combines classes from both areas.
As a first-year student advisor, Connolly has made the math class recommendations for over 25 years. She understands the kinds of doubts that students come in with regarding their math placements. “I tell them, ‘You will work really hard. But you can do it,’” she says.
Connolly’s teaching philosophy suits her high-energy personality. “I can’t stand a quiet class,” she says. The former marathon runner loves the summer and winter Olympics, and she likes to incorporate examples from the events into her classes to teach her students all manner of calculations. “Last year in one of our computer science classes we created a program to track luge times,” she enthuses. “I love the luge. I think it’s insane,” she adds.
Connolly knows she is making a real connection with her students when she shares these different sides of herself in class. “I want my students to know this is a whole person here, not just someone who walked out of a textbook.” A prayerful person, Connolly starts each class with a prayer or reflection, from traditional Catholic prayers, to Sister Madeleva’s poems, to Native American prayers. She hopes this quiet encouragement gives confidence to Saint Mary’s women as they pursue their own dreams. Connolly is serious about helping her students succeed. But her playful side, which includes an uplifting sense of humor and a penchant for Oreo cookies, tells them that this mathematician-turned-marathoner is in it for the long haul.