When Dr. Bethany Noblitt joined the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Northern Kentucky University in 1999, she immediately felt like she belonged.
“NKU is my home away from home. I have my family at home and my NKU family,” she says. “This group of people that I walk these hallways with are my people. The friendships that you develop go beyond just the department. People at NKU develop real, genuine relationships that go beyond being colleagues who serve on committees together.”
For Dr. Noblitt, who was named NKU’s 2023 Frank Sinton Milburn Outstanding Professor award winner, teaching was always appealing.
“I was always into math,” she says. “It was something I enjoyed thinking about, so being a math major was a natural progression for me.”
Dr. Noblitt originally wanted to teach at the high school level, and she did for one year after receiving her bachelor’s degree from the University of Louisville. However, she realized it wasn’t the right fit for her.
Things changed when she began to teach night classes at a local community college. So, she made the switch and received her master’s in teaching from the University of Louisville so that she could teach college-level students. While she was cold-calling local universities looking for teaching jobs, she found an open position at NKU.
Dr. Noblitt began teaching math classes and eventually secured a full-time, renewable position. When she decided to pursue her doctorate degree at the University of Cincinnati a few years later, she had the full support from her department.
“It was five years of my life, and NKU was with me every step of the way,” she says. “I couldn’t have done that without support from the department and my chair. I can’t imagine there are a lot of universities that would have done that. I wouldn’t be anywhere close to the position I’m in now if it weren’t for NKU. I feel gratitude for what NKU has given me—a family of friends, a community, and a profession that is fulfilling and meaningful.”
During the last 24 years, Dr. Noblitt has taught more than 30 different mathematics courses, presented research at more than 75 conferences and served as a board member for several organizations. But what’s most notable about her is her community-based approach in the classroom.
“I like working through how I can write questions or prompts that will get students to think deeply about the content and learn something,” she says. “But it’s not just that I like thinking about math. I like to think about how I can be the bridge between math and students.”
Over the years, Dr. Noblitt realized the classroom could be more fun for her students—and her. So, instead of standing and lecturing on only what she knows, she lets her students take ownership of what they’re learning.
“If they’re the ones who are leading, asking questions and driving the conversation, they’re more invested. They’re more interested and more likely to be engaged if I give them the space to explore on their own,” she says. “I prompt them with good questions and things to explore so they’re discovering math on their own without me telling them what I think they need to be learning. That’s their intellectual curiosity, and I don’t want to dampen that.”
This approach creates real connections in the classroom, which is something that Dr. Noblitt cherishes. For her, those relationships don’t end when the semester does.
“I don’t want that friendship to end,” she says. “I feel that way about all my students. We spent 16 weeks together and developed relationships. I’m glad they’re going off into the world, but I’d like to be a part of it. I always wonder what happens to each person after they leave my class.”
On Saturday, the Class of 2023 will walk across the stage and move on to their next adventure. In honor of such an exciting moment, the self-proclaimed quote collector shared one of her favorites: “You don’t really know what you can do until you try something that’s more.”
And that’s exactly what she wants new graduates to keep in mind.
“Until you fail, you don’t know what you can do. But it’s not just about failure or just learning from failure so that you can overcome. When you fail, you have learned something about yourself. You have learned what you can do. You can take that failure and learn from it and try again and succeed…or not. Either way, you keep pushing, keep trying until you find that something that’s “more”.”