“The most inspiring teachers are those who can transmit enthusiasm for their subject to their students. If the teacher cannot get excited about the subject, then why should the students?” muses Serge D’Alessio on his teaching dossier.
One of the main priorities for Serge when teaching is to provide examples so that the theory manifests itself into more concrete and applicable problems. He uses his keen sense of humour to make his classes additionally enjoyable for students. Serge also makes himself available for help, above and beyond just office hours and two-sentence email responses. “I know we have teaching assistants, but I prefer to do my own tutorials just because I’m the one working with the students in class, so it makes sense for me to be the person to run the tutorial as well,” says Serge. He also sets aside extra time for exam review sessions, where he takes students through questions from past exams that are representative of what they are to be tested on.
With a background in engineering, Serge got his PhD in Applied Mathematics from the University of Western Ontario. He started teaching at University of Waterloo in 1997, and hopes to stay “until he gets old and grey”.
“The best part about teaching is transferring information you’ve acquired to them and seeing the lights go off for students when they grasp a concept. That makes the whole process worthwhile,” Serge explains. His merit didn’t go unrecognized. In 2010, he was one of two recipients of the Faculty of Mathematics Award for Distinction in Teaching (Alfred Menezes being the other).
Perhaps the best indicators of the quality of an instructor’s teaching are testimonials from his pupils. According to one Rate My Professors reviewer who has taken "Advanced Calculus 2 for Electrical Engineers" (Mathematics (MATH) 212) with Serge: “Words aren't enough to describe the amazingness[sic] of this prof. He's super clear, and super organized. Encourages students to ask questions and is genuinely interested about the material he teaches. You can see his excitement when he's talking about Maxwell's equations.” Others have attested to Serge’s dedication, saying that he is willing to “skip Thanksgiving to hold a review session for you before a midterm”.
He was also appointed Associate Dean of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach in 2010. As part of that role, he travels around Ontario to promote mathematics to high school students. Serge’s strategy is not to promote this university specifically, but to generate interest in math and to let them come to the realization on their own that UWaterloo is the natural choice. He sometimes uses the opportunity to introduce careers in mathematics, and other times he helps the students study for upcoming math contests, such as the "Fermat for Grade 11s" and "Euclid for Grade 12s".
He especially likes to share demonstrations with the high school students and then teach them the mathematics behind the demonstrations. “I don’t want to do a problem that is completely within their reach, but as long as I know they have covered the right material they need to tackle the problem, then I don’t mind doing a problem that is slightly above them, just to get them to reach,” Serge explains.
With all the time he devotes to teaching and his duties as associate dean, Serge is also able to keep up with his research, although he acknowledges the near-impossibility of juggling so many tasks. With the help of his graduate student and other collaborators, he is currently examining the formation of waves on fluid surfaces.