Michael Cohen, assistant professor of mathematics
Published October 2017
Michael Cohen is fun, laid back and serious about mathematics. That combination has made him a favorite of students since he arrived at NDSU in 2013.
He’s taught several undergraduate classes, including calculous, differential equations for STEM-track students, axiomatic geometry and metric space topology, as well as graduate-level courses in Lie groups and Lie algebra. His research specialties are groups, dynamics and descriptive set theory.
Cohen earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Pomona College in California, and master’s and doctorate degrees in mathematics at the University of North Texas.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE YOUR PROFESSION?
I fell in love with math over time, as I became increasingly used to practicing it in my undergraduate and graduate careers. To me, math consists of taking complicated, confusing, or nebulous concepts and identifying the correct language with which to render them clear and precise.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT TEACHING?
I love my students.
WHAT DRIVES YOU AS AN EXCELLENT INSTRUCTOR?
I believe strongly in the intrinsic value of ideas, academic thought and creativity across the sciences and humanities. I want to encourage my students to see learning as its own reward, and appreciate knowledge for the sake of knowledge. I consider it a great honor to try to share with them my area of expertise from my tiny corner of the vast body of human intellectual achievement.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
Being able to talk about math at all levels, every day with my students and my brilliant colleagues.
HOW DO YOU CONNECT WITH STUDENTS?
I try to cultivate an atmosphere of open communication, and non-judgment. Learning new mathematics, like learning anything, is difficult and takes effort. It’s often frustrating. I think math professors understand that better than anyone.
WHAT IS THE MOST COMMON TRAIT OR TRAITS OF SUCCESSFUL STUDENTS?
Persistence is the best trait you can have. Thankfully, it can be learned. Students should try not to let mistakes or failures discourage them, as they are normal and necessary.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR STUDENTS?
Everyone sees the world differently and learns in different ways. Diverse perspectives have amazing value.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BEST MOMENT OF YOUR TEACHING CAREER SO FAR?
Helping to place one of my undergraduate students into his first-choice doctorate graduate program, in mathematics, where he currently works.
WHAT IS SOMETHING EVERY STUDENT SHOULD EXPERIENCE BEFORE THEY GRADUATE FROM NDSU?
The “Snickers Salad” at Memorial Union Dining Center. Before I came to the Midwest, I did not know they made salad out of Snickers candy bars.
WHAT MAKES NDSU A SPECIAL PLACE?
Without a doubt, its hardworking and diverse student-body. I have been constantly impressed by the gumption and brilliance of our students of all types of stripes, ethnicities, races, religions, genders and national backgrounds. We must continue to do everything we can to make our students welcome here.