Faculty Spotlight: Bob Cappetta
From an early age, Bob Cappetta wanted to figure out why long division worked or know what the buttons like sin, cos and log meant on a calculator.
"I was insanely curious and mathematics was the outlet for my curiosity," he said. "Unfortunately, I thought that school mathematics was focused on memorizing facts and I was more interested in the mathematics that wasn't taught in school. Despite the rather boring nature of most mathematics classes, I retained my desire to learn interesting mathematics. The first school mathematics class that fascinated me was geometry because I appreciated its aesthetic nature."
Now Cappetta is a teacher and he's making sure mathematics is anything but boring.
"I want my students to enjoy doing mathematics," he explained. "Of course I want students to learn mathematics, but I want them to have long-term knowledge, not just information that is easily forgotten. For that reason, I stress conceptual understanding and non-routine problem solving. My goal is for students to develop mathematical independence and mathematical power."
Since earning his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cappetta has been teaching math, first at Lincoln-Way High School, where he also coached football and directed the student play. He earned his master's degree in mathematics at Illinois State University and eventually found himself teaching at South Suburban College for five years before seeing an advertisement for a full-time position at College of DuPage.
While at COD, he was encouraged to continue his studies, and he completed a Ph.D. in mathematical sciences from Northern Illinois University.
Cappetta hopes to inspire his students the way his teachers inspired him, and he clearly remembers who they were and what he learned.
"My elementary school teachers insisted that I use my talents to help others," he said. "My high school football coach, Tom Mitchell, taught the importance of teamwork and sacrifice for a greater goal. Jean Searls and William Dogan taught me how to write persuasively and how to speak confidently. Brother Murray helped me realize that there was more to mathematics than mindless memorization.
"At the collegiate level, Jerry Glynn challenged me to teach mathematics in a student-centered manner. Stephanie Alexander helped me to increase my appreciation for geometry. Graham Evans modeled passionate undergraduate mathematics teaching and he showed me how much fun it can be. Larry Spence modeled well-organized, efficient lectures. Mike Marsalli modeled the Moore method, a student-centered approach where students learn through problem solving. Qingkai Kong demonstrated how analysis, the theories behind calculus, can be taught in a meaningful way to average students. Linda Sons demonstrated the importance of collaboration with peers at the regional and national level. Alan Zollman helped me appreciate the value of research and made me realize that I have a responsibility to share what I know with the greater mathematics teaching community.
"Outside of mathematics, Dan McDonough helped me understand the value and joy of studying history. Dimpna Clarin enriched my life by helping me develop my talents in music. Countless directors helped me gain self confidence through performance on stage. Zhi Liu from COD made learning a foreign language a personally and professionally rewarding experience.
"These great men and women are my heroes. They taught lessons that I carry with me today."
While at COD, Cappetta has taught a wide array of courses, including differential equations for advanced high school students on the Downers Grove South campus, statistics via closed circuit television and online mathematics courses. Just like the teachers he remembers, he hopes his students remember him.
"I want my students to learn that their efforts make a difference," he said. "I want them to know that they can be successful. Many of my students transfer to some of the best colleges and universities in the country, and I want them know that they can compete with their peers at those institutions.
"At the same time, the greatest inspiration comes from teaching developmental mathematics classes. It is so rewarding to see a student succeed despite numerous obstacles. I have had students battle addiction, legal problems, marital difficulties and personal tragedy yet they persevere. If students are willing to make that sacrifice at such difficult times of their lives, I owe them the best instruction that I can give."
He also thanks his parents for providing an excellent education and demanding that Cappetta do his best.
"Ultimately I want to be a good role model for my children. My father taught me that one must give an honest day's labor for an honest wage. I hope that my children learn that lesson, too," he said. "Of course my greatest inspiration is my wife of 19 years. Without her I would not be where I am today. I am a very fortunate man."