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Department ofMathematics and Computer Science


Stephen DeBacker

Stephen DeBacker

SCU Welcomes Stephen DeBacker ’90 as 2024 Halmos Professor

Distinguished alumnus Stephen DeBacker has returned to campus as teacher and mentor.

Distinguished alumnus Stephen DeBacker has returned to campus as teacher and mentor.

This quarter, Santa Clara University’s Department of Mathematics and Computer Science welcomes back to campus alumnus Stephen DeBacker ’90 as the Paul R. and Virginia P. Halmos Visiting Professor. DeBacker, an Arthur F. Thurau Professor at the University of Michigan, is the first alumnus to hold the distinguished Halmos Professorship. He will be spending four months on campus teaching a specialized undergraduate course in real analysis and mentoring both students and faculty in the department.

“DeBacker is arguably the most distinguished alumnus from our department,” says Frank Farris, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science. “His achievements in mathematics are extraordinary, but he is also well known as a force for improving mathematics education at the University of Michigan.”

Since 2018, the Halmos Visiting Professorship has brought a professor to Santa Clara’s campus every other year. Visitors are chosen due to their distinguished record as an expositor, mathematician, mentor, and colleague, with a clear commitment to furthering the distinctive mission and quality of the College of Arts and Sciences. Particular emphasis is placed on someone who integrates creative scholarship with teaching and who provides mentorship to both students and faculty.

On March 5, 2024, Professor DeBacker will deliver the annual Alexanderson Lecture, named for Gerald L. Alexanderson, who served as a mentor to DeBacker when he was a student. Alexandrson was also instrumental in coordinating the gift from Paul Halmos that endowed the professorship.

“I have been very fortunate to have had many great math teachers,” says DeBacker. “At Santa Clara these included Jerry Alexanderson and Paul Halmos. I learned quite a bit of math from both, but I also learned a fair amount about the art of teaching from them. In particular, Paul Halmos was a pioneer in the Inquiry Based Learning (IBL) pedagogy. I have used the IBL approach in my own teaching with good results, and it works whether you are teaching middle schoolers about the basic principles of addition and multiplication or graduate students about derived functors. Teaching a class in this style at Santa Clara will bring the teaching part of my academic career full circle.”

DeBacker has an impressive track record, both throughout his career and during his time as an undergraduate at SCU. Before graduating in 1990 with a degree in Mathematics and Physics, DeBacker was awarded several of Santa Clara’s most prestigious department prizes. These included the First-Year Mathematics Prize (1987), the IBM Corporation Prize in Physics (1988), the Orella Prize in Science (1990), and the George W. Evans Memorial Prize in Mathematics (1989-90). DeBacker was also awarded the Presidential Scholarship during his time on campus and was involved in the Santa Clara Community Action Program (SCCAP), which contributed to his lifelong engagement with local community outreach programs.

After graduating from Santa Clara, DeBacker went on to receive his master’s degree and later his Ph.D., both in Mathematics, from the University of Chicago. Throughout his career, DeBacker has received numerous awards, appointments, fellowships, and honors from universities across the globe, including funding by the National Science Foundation for his post-doctoral fellowship and later several different research projects. He has been continuously involved at Santa Clara since his graduation, regularly returning to help grade the infamous Putnam Competition conducted by the Mathematics department.

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