Dr. Antonie Boerkoel has spent the last twenty-five years teaching mathematics. After earning a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, he came to the United States and completed a Ph.D. at the University of Texas in Austin. Although his primary area of interest is number theory, Dr. Boerkoel also enjoys working on areas such as combinatorics, geometry, abstract algebra, and complex analysis. He has taught the gamut of math courses, from remedial math to undergraduate and graduate classes, including trigonometry, calculus I-III, geometry, linear algebra, abstract algebra, matrix theory, discrete math, number theory, real analysis, complex analysis, combinatorics, and problems solving. He has even taught online courses. Prior to coming to DigiPen, Dr. Boerkoel taught mathematics at Emporia State University in Kansas. After his wife, a Boeing engineer, relocated to Renton, Dr. Boerkoel began teaching part-time at DigiPen in 2005. This is his first year as a full-time professor at the Institute.
“Teaching is in my blood,” he states. He identifies his most fulfilling teaching experiences as the times when he shows students the beauty and power of mathematics. “It is great when you can spark that recognition in students of ‘wow this is cool,’” he declares. Dr. Boerkoel believes that there are certain characteristics to mathematics that draw people to the discipline. “There is the beauty of the field, with its tremendous scope, underlying structure, and powerful techniques,” he explains. “Merely playing in this rich field of pure ideas is totally fun and fascinating, but what really drives us to do math is the bliss of discovery. When you figure out something hidden, discover a new gem hidden behind the surface, unearth a hidden structure, that’s when this sense of ‘wow’ is experienced first-hand. Leading students to those experiences I think is what I find most fulfilling as a math teacher.”
Dr. Boerkoel characterizes his role as a mathematics teacher as that of a guide who introduces students to “the amazing beauty and the truly unbelievably powerul tools” of the field. In order for students to gain a good appreciation of mathematical concepts, he believes that they need to spend time “playing” with them and making their own discoveries. “Teaching goes beyond merely passing on facts, theorems, and tools,” he states. “Mathematics is about understanding, penetrating into the underlying structure, and figuring out ‘how’ things work and ‘why.’” Without an exploration of the “why” question, he believes that teaching would be rather shallow. Dr. Boerkoel understands that teaching students to reason is at the heart of mathematics education. For example, students need to know more than just what the Pythagorean theorem is. They need to understand why it is true, how and when it can be used, and why it is not true in other geometries. Dr. Boerkoel also finds the fostering of problem-solving skills to be another primary goal of mathematics education. He seeks to develop students’ “abilities to unleash the full power of the brain to solve problems.” As he states, “If the math department at DigiPen just taught students about the dot product and other basic facts, and failed to attend to fostering student ability at developing general problem solving skills, we would not be serving our students as educators.” He finds the Institute’s math department to be strong at developing these skills in DigiPen’s students.
Beyond his teaching responsibilities at DigiPen, Dr. Boerkoel spends a significant amount of time on mathematics. For example, he is currently researching geometrical topics. Outside of mathematics, Dr. Boerkoel spends time on projects around the house and on copying the works of master painters like Ingres, Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Cole. He does enjoy working with his hands. One of his hobbies at which he is most successful is chess. A few years ago, he became a USCF correspondence chess master and was even rated as 53rd in the U.S. Dr. Boerkoel enjoys his life and profession. He concludes that “Truly enjoying what you are doing is important. If you are not enjoying what you are doing, you are wasting your time. Life is Bliss, so enjoy it and don’t mess it up!”