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Professor of Mathematics, Eastern Mennonite University
“Study what you love,” Owen Byer advises to students entering college or looking for ‘the right major.’ His love for mathematics meant that “there was never any question regarding what [he] would study in college.” Because he knew a liberal arts education would teach him valuable writing and critical thinking skills, he decided to focus on following his passions and worry about a career later. His enthusiasm for math and education led him to add a secondary teaching endorsement to his major. He encourages students to focus on more than one discipline and develop excellent work habits and interpersonal skill - these skills will transfer well to any career.
The Messiah Experience
Owen also recognized the importance of involvement in extracurricular activities. He was on the track team at Messiah for three years and also played for the varsity basketball team for a year. “I thoroughly enjoyed my four years there,” he says of his college experience. After a semester student teaching at Camp Hill High School, Owen knew his decision to teach was the right one.
“Every day, as a professor, I use the skills I learned as a student at Messiah,” Owen says. "Liberal arts colleges like Messiah," he adds, "are so valuable because students can become broadly educated so that they are adaptable enough later to change vocations when their whims (or the job market) change." Thanks to his positive experience at Messiah and encouragement from mathematics professor Marvin Brubaker, he decided to pursue graduate school.
What to Do Next
Imagining that he would eventually teach high school, Owen went directly to the University of Delaware for his master's after graduating from Messiah. While finishing the master’s degree, he saw an advertisement in the Mennonite Magazine (currently known as the Gospel Herald) for a one-year position at Eastern Mennonite University. He had such a positive experience there that it motivated him to return to graduate school and complete a Ph.D. Following this, he applied to about 60 different colleges and universities before accepting a position as an Assistant Professor at Northwestern College. After teaching at Northwestern for three years, a permanent position became available at Eastern Mennonite University, so he returned there. For the past five years, he has been Chair of the Mathematics Department, and he was recently promoted to Professor of Mathematics.
A Typical Day
For Owen there is no such thing as a typical day. There are a wide variety of duties required of a professor and Department Chair, and his many tasks include “teaching classes, attending committee meetings for the wider university, helping students one-on-one during office hours, meeting prospective students, working on a geometry book I'm co-authoring, writing recommendation letters for students, grading homework, exploring new uses of technology for teaching, solving math problems that appear in journals, attending professional math conferences, [and] advising students about course selection and careers.”
A “Why” Moment
Find out what paths other certified teachers are pursuing:
Discover the career journeys of other Messiah grads who work in higher education:
Profile by Tyler Baber, April 2006