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Tim Pennings honored with Distinguished Alumni Award

Tim Pennings, an award-winning educator, academic leader, and researcher, will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Department of Mathematics at a ceremony on Thursday, October 21, 2021 in Ames, Iowa. The award recognizes outstanding alumni from the Department of Mathematics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State.

Pennings, professor and chair of the Department of Mathematics at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has been an outstanding faculty leader during his career. Prior to joining Davenport University, he served as professor and chair of the mathematics department at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. The college named him principal research investigator and director of Hope College’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates, a program funded by the National Science Foundation.

Pennings garnered national attention after publishing “Do Dogs Know Calculus?” in the College Mathematics Journal. This clever research paper analyzed how his Welsh Corgi, Elvis, seemed to instinctively calculate the optimal route for retrieving a stick from a body of water. Pennings made the case that Elvis was using calculus principles to determine the fastest path to the stick.

“Do Dogs Know Calculus?” earned widespread media coverage, which led to more than 300 speaking engagements across the country. A fierce advocate for math literacy, Pennings used the opportunity to make math fun and accessible for general audiences. He co-authored a subsequent paper with Roland Minton, “Do Dogs Know Bifurcations?” which won the George Polya Award for Expository Excellence from the Mathematics Association of America.

Pennings has volunteered countless hours promoting math education in middle schools and directing free summer math camps for young learners. He is also a mentor for the Prison Mathematics Project.

Pennings earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Iowa State in 1987.