Mathematician Brian Mulholland joins Notre Dame faculty

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Brian Mulholland, who completed both his masters’ and his doctorate degrees at Notre Dame, has a new title this semester: assistant professor of the practice in the Department of Mathematics.

Mulholland is excited to continue his research on how professors like himself can best use technology as a teaching tool in higher education. He explained that most studies on technology, math, and education focus on K-12 students, but he wants to bring new modes of instruction into college classrooms.

“Notre Dame has some of the best resources to be able to develop new curricula, materials, and research in education,” he said, citing ND Learning, the Kaneb Center, and OIT Classroom Technology. “We are a big enough university that we can do a bunch of things, but we’re small enough to care.”

Mulholland has already incorporated some innovative techniques into the courses he taught as a mathematics primary instructor, including a flipped-model, sprint-method calculus class, in which students learned the material more quickly and then spent the end of the semester experimenting with different problem types. He also designed a narrative-driven course with ND Learning, where students completed linear algebra problems to solve challenges in a post-apocalyptic, science-fiction-themed quest.

Despite the immense difficulties the current COVID-19 crisis has posed to education, for Mulholland, it also has a small silver lining. He has had the flexibility to further rethink how some of his classes function. For instance, he integrated mastery learning and a standards system in his linear algebra and differential equations course this semester, which shifts the emphasis in grading to student growth.

In addition to bringing new strategies to his math classrooms, Mulholland is now engaging with students across all majors. He is looking forward to teaching a Moreau First Year Experience Course this semester, so he can foster conversation among the newest members of the Notre Dame community. In fact, the pedagogical philosophy of the Blessed Basil Moreau means a lot to Mulholland and his faith.

“Being able to work with a student body [who] understands that the University’s mission is to educate, as Moreau said, the heart and the mind together, and not educating the mind at the expense of the heart in particular… really resonates with me,” he said.

This emphasis on Catholic moral and intellectual tradition has inspired Mulholland to collaborate with the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture on campus, as well.

The idea of the Notre Dame family holds special significance for Mulholland. Although he and his siblings are the first generation to study at the University, his grandmother’s one request at her wedding was that she could spend her honeymoon in South Bend, to see the campus. Mulholland’s wife, Kathryn Mulholland, became an assistant professor of practice in the mathematics department this semester, as well.

Mulholland appreciates that Notre Dame students also prioritize personal connections on campus, by building relationships with each other and their professors in addition to striving for  high academic standards.

“The Notre Dame community is one of the strongest that I’ve been a part of,” Mulholland said.