Professor spotlight: Dr. Michael McDaniel


Story by America DeGraw, Reporter
Photo Courtesy of Michael McDaniel

Dr. Michael McDaniel is not your average math professor. His vivacious and intense personality has garnered him attention from his students in the best ways possible. Every student this reporter spoke to about McDaniel spoke of his interesting lectures, excitable personality, and willingness to assist his students no matter their skill level in his subject.

McDaniel began his education here at Aquinas, before transferring to St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York to complete his baccalaureate. He went on to acquire both his master’s and doctorate in knot theory at George Washington University. When asked what his favorite mathematical concept is, McDaniel referenced to his doctorate, explaining how Knot Theory is interesting.

“We all know what a knot is, but the mathematical study of knots is voluminous, and the possibility of structures (for knots) is still completely wide open,” McDaniel said.  What can  be made is infinite, we’ve barely scratched the surface.”

McDaniel was not always the math enthusiast we see before us today. He hated math in high school, and entered his undergraduate education with the intention of majoring in English. However, he tested into calculus and, after much coaxing from Sister Ann Mason (who is still a professor of mathematics here at AQ), discovered a passion for mathematical endeavors. McDaniel also speaks fondly of his time in the math program at AQ with his roommate whom he refers to simply by his last name, Poje . He calls both himself and Poje “monkeys,” saying that they would do their best to drive Sister Ann Mason insane; coming up to the board and finishing a problem in the most convoluted way possible, as well as doing and saying corny things throughout the class period.

When asked about his favorite course to teach, McDaniel spoke fondly of his geometry course. Teaching geometry and complex theories offers the chance of “college kids getting the experience of being in a completely different place, but still hearing and speaking English,” he says, “(They) go to places where you kind of know what’s going on, but then find your way.”

McDaniel speaks about watching a student’s eyes light up when “they are thinking hyperbolically, and then speak it.” McDaniel focuses on student participation in class, what he likes best is when he manages to get a class that takes over the conversation and interacts with him. Active learning is very important to him, and he feels that certain concepts can only be understood through physical representations of the principles; such as bow ties to teach knot theory, game dice to teach geometry, etc.

As a professor of 18 years, McDaniel has had ample opportunities to establish himself on campus, as well as in the classroom. He acts as advisor of the Game Club, League of Legends club, as well as co-advising the Math Club with Dr. Joseph Spencer. The math club comes with the added position in the Math Honors Society. His favorite activity on campus? “I like bothering people,” he said. Outside of campus, McDaniel enjoys playing guitar, albeit, “not very well”, chopping wood, watching birds and other animals, playing with the ferrets is his favorite part of the day, and is learning to shoot a crossbow.

McDaniel is married to Mary Beth McDaniel, the “love of his life, and the absolute best,” and they have two sons. Other members of his immediate family include the softshell turtle in the basement of AB named Paul, and his two wondrous ferrets Digby and Ginger. McDaniel’s favorite things about the ferrets are their comical attempts to communicate with him, and how sweet they are. Many people may think of ferrets as rodent-like and rather mean, but Digby and Ginger not only nap across McDaniel’s legs, they have also been known to share his breakfast, and poke their noses in his ears to wake him up from a nap. This reporter has had the pleasure of meeting the two sleepy weasels, and they are absolutely adorable.

Dr. McDaniel’s parting advice to students is this: “Get your money’s worth. Get the most out of your classes. Finite conscious hours should drive people to do more than they do. Tell your professors to stop wasting your time, ask them to deliver content.”

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