[UTA Magazine]


The long and short of it
Two professors, a veteran and a newcomer, employ similar methods to inspire their students
by Jim Patterson

Emory Estes and Minerva Cordero-Epperson
Professor Emory Estes, an authority on Robert Burns, has taught English to UTA students for nearly a half-century. Associate Professor Minerva Cordero-Epperson, one of the few minority women teaching college-level mathematics, recently completed her first year on campus.

Emory Estes began teaching at Arlington State College (now UTA) in 1956—several years before Minerva Cordero-Epperson was born. Now, both exhibit their passion for teaching as members of the UTA faculty.

Dr. Estes, an English professor, just completed his 47th year at UTA, the longest tenure of any current employee. "A lot of the faculty who were here when I started now have buildings named after them," he says. Dr. Cordero-Epperson, an associate professor of mathematics, recently finished her first academic year on campus.

"A lot of the faculty who were here when I started now have buildings named after them."
—English Professor Emory Estes

When Dr. Estes joined the faculty, the University was a two-year school with a student body of approximately 4,000 undergraduates. More than 20,000 students were enrolled in 180-plus programs at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels when Dr. Cordero-Epperson arrived last year.

Different roads, same destination

Dr. Estes grew up in Marshall, Texas, and after serving in the Army in World War II completed his bachelor's degree at East Texas Baptist College. He went on to earn his master's degree at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) before receiving his Ph.D. from Texas Christian University.

When UTA became a four-year institution in 1959, he was named vice chairman of the English Department, a position he filled until being named chairman in 1970. He served in that capacity until 1982 when a near-fatal heart attack forced him to step down from administrative duties.

After recovering from the heart attack and bypass surgery, he has taught full time with two international appointments—one in London and the other in Malaysia. "The only thing that is constant about teaching is the time that classes begin," Dr. Estes said. "After classes begin, a new adventure unfolds."

Dr. Cordero-Epperson's adventure began unfolding in her native Puerto Rico, where she received her bachelor's degree at the University of Puerto Rico before coming to the United States to further her education.

"I love teaching. I don't know if I will be doing it 40 years from now, but I really enjoy teaching."
—mathematics Associate Professor Minerva Cordero-Epperson

"I wanted to pursue graduate studies and I wanted to get a Ph.D.," she said. "Puerto Rico did not offer a Ph.D. at the time, so my professors encouraged me very strongly to come to the United States." She earned her master's degree at the University of California, Berkeley before receiving her Ph.D. at the University of Iowa.

Dr. Cordero-Epperson and her sister, Olga Cordero Braña, who teaches mathematics at the University of Hawaii, are rarities in professorial circles. "I know there are very few minorities and very few women in mathematics," she said. "I'm hoping to be an inspiration to others."

Common ground

Despite the difference in their years of service, Drs. Estes and Cordero-Epperson are similar in several respects. Both are engaging lecturers who encourage student participation in classroom discussions. Both have a passion for teaching. Both also have spouses who are or have been members of the UTA family.

Dr. Estes' wife, Dorothy, spent 26 years as director of Student Publications, the department that produces The Shorthorn, the campus newspaper, before retiring in 1996. Dr. Cordero-Epperson's husband, James Epperson, is an assistant professor on the UTA mathematics faculty.

Dr. Estes specializes in American literature but has also taught British and world literature. In the last decade, he has spent many holidays in London and Scotland collecting material for a book on Robert Burns. He also conducted four study tours in Scotland with students who had completed his Burns course.

Teaching, he says, has provided a vantage point to observe social changes through the years. "I watched students reject their parents' optimism and patriotism after the Korean War, then they focused on social and environmental concerns before shifting into alienation and militancy during the Vietnam years. After a period of materialism, they've become patriotic again and developed closer ties to their families."

Dr. Estes is particularly excited about two former students—Tim Westmoreland, who recently published a book and has a second one coming out, and actor Lou Diamond Phillips, who has written two one-act plays and three two-act plays. "Lou is a great writer," Dr. Estes said. "I told him if he ever quits the acting business, he could have a writing career."

Says English Department Chairman Tim Morris: "Everyone in our profession should get as much joy as Emory gets out of going to class each morning. He takes 'young at heart' out of the realm of cliché and lives it anew every day."

Dr. Cordero-Epperson is equally enthusiastic. In her short time here, she has organized a student chapter of the Mathematical Association of America. "I have a wonderful group of students," she said. "It is just amazing how they have been working to get things going."

The students, likewise, are impressed with her dedication.
"We are very lucky to have Dr. Cordero at this university," said Carson Clanton, a senior math major from Benbrook. "She is very thorough with her teaching style, making sure that students understand the material before going on to the next topic."

Dr. Cordero-Epperson came to UTA from Texas Tech University. Her research area is finite geometries, and she particularly enjoys teaching abstract algebra.

"It is the highest class that math majors take before they graduate. I was happy to get a chance to teach that class in the spring and to get to know some of the math majors," she said. "The previous semester I taught a class for elementary school teachers and another class for business, so I was not in contact with math majors."

How much longer Dr. Estes stays in classroom contact with English students is uncertain. Approaching 77, he's considering retirement. "I will miss the students, but I want to complete my book and take longer trips before traveling gets more dangerous," he said. "I need to spend more time walking and less time grading papers."

As for her future, Dr. Cordero-Epperson sees herself teaching for many years. Just how long, though, is hard to say.

"With a Ph.D. in mathematics, one has other opportunities ... but I love teaching. I don't know if I will be doing it 40 years from now," she said with a laugh, "but I really enjoy teaching."


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