Philip Rash: Aficionado of math, teaching, and the friendly skies

Mathematics Instructor Philip Rash: “I believe in trying to get students to discover things rather than just being told them.”

Our 2015-2016 Excellence in Teaching award winner talks about how he’s evolved as a teacher and the challenge — and privilege — of teaching at NCSSM.

As any of his students learn quickly, Philip Rash loves math. By the time he was a senior in high school, he had decided on teaching math for his career. Early in his career, teaching was mostly “a way to get to do math and share it with other people,” he says. More recently, teaching has become “more about the students.”

As any of his colleagues will tell you, Rash goes above and beyond to serve those students. Chancellor Todd Roberts announced this past winter that a committee of colleagues selected Rash for the 2015-2016 Board of Governors Excellence in Teaching award. Rash’s exceptional service to students extends far beyond the classroom, Roberts noted, from coaching academic competitions to attending students’ extracurricular events and taking them on field trips. “If you’re here on the weekends, you usually see one of his trucks parked here,” Roberts laughed.

There’s still plenty of math, of course. In addition to teaching classes and coaching for competitions, Rash coordinates the state’s annual high school math contest finals on campus in April. Not all NCSSM students are naturally gifted in the subject, he notes. “I think math is like a lot of things, frankly some people do naturally find success with it more than others do,” he says. “Just like I didn’t necessarily find great success just reading literature in high school. 

“Certainly as a teacher, I like to believe that if somebody wants to learn, math is certainly teachable and graspable,” Rash adds. NCSSM draws a diverse population with a wide range of previous experience in math classes. “One student may come here having already taken calculus, while another comes from a very different environment where they haven’t even had precalculus. Both students are very capable, but they’re starting in different places. Even within the same class, it’s interesting to see the differences in students.” 

Rash feels lucky to have landed at Science and Math 12 years ago as a relatively young teacher. “One of the things that struck me when I started working here is that there’s really a lot of collaboration and a team aspect to teaching,” he says. “Things like, all of us teaching sections of the same course meet together and create a shared network drive of resources. So that whenever anybody makes a new test or problem set, they make it available for anyone to share. 

“One of my college professors said she didn’t think she was that creative of a teacher, she was just a really good thief,” Rash says, laughing. “I feel that way. I may come up some good ideas, but I’m also really good at stealing.”

After hours, Rash literally goes above and beyond — as a pilot of a four-seater Piper Cherokee 140. As he explained in this employee profile, Rash flies between 50 to 100 hours a year, to the beach, to professional conferences, to inspire anyone who’s interested. He’s also retrofitted a Dodge Dakota pickup truck into an electric vehicle, filling the truck bed with networked batteries. 

With the Excellence in Teaching award, Rash is one of 17 recipients named from each University of North Carolina institution, each nominated by committees on their home campuses and selected by the Board of Governors’ Committee on Personnel and Tenure. Each award winner receives a commemorative bronze medallion and a $12,500 cash prize during spring graduation ceremonies at his or her school.

Read profile of Rash from Higher Education Works Foundation

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