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R. Dean Riess

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 26 - April 2, 1998

Dean Riess, who knows almost all 262 mathematics majors by name and sight, exemplifies undergraduate advising at its very best, according to those who nominated him--including students whose lives he has changed.
Riess, professor of mathematics, advises not only math majors, but also students throughout the university, as well as faculty members, administrators, and parents.
Winner of the Alumni Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Advising, Riess has been coordinator of advising for all mathematics majors for nearly 20 years and career advisor for majors since 1994. He established e-mail and web advising for majors in 1995.
"Dr. Riess is invariably the first mathematics faculty member prospective math majors meet when they visit Virginia Tech in high school, he keeps an eye on their progress during their college careers, and he maintains contact with them when they become alumni," said Robert Olin, department chair.
"He is the reason I chose to come to Virginia Tech," wrote student Christopher Stoltz. David Catarious said Riess's letters about Tech's math program "got me very excited about possibilities for the future."
"At the beginning of each semester, Dean literally devotes days, nights, and weekends ensuring that the 13,000 or so students taking math courses are in the correct sessions and have fulfilled all prerequisites for the courses," said Ellie Sturgis, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
He helps students plan class schedules and find co-op jobs--and has even given students a temporary place to live. "Dr. Riess acts as almost a `father in the Math Department' to us," Stoltz said.
"He has the capacity to worry about students one at a time," wrote Barbara Cowles and Charles Dudley of the University Honors Program; "he has the capacity to worry about hundreds at a time."
Riess said he tailors programs to individual student tastes and talents and gives students "delicate, mixed measures of encouragement and directed guidance." "My interactions with him and his suggestions for customizing my education...have enabled me to discover my talents and aspirations as a mathematician," said senior Kristine Gross.
"Good advising," Riess said, "should also include a strong mesh of career advising with academic advising; lifelong goals should be established, along with the self-discipline to achieve them. Finally, good advising includes concern for students of all curricula who come in contact with us; each day we are all advisors to the university community."
Winner of three Certificates of Teaching Excellence and co-author of two highly successful textbooks, Riess is, according to Mary Ann Lewis of Human Resources and Education, "a gentleman who lives his values every day."