At the end of a hallway on the Science Center’s second floor, one small, but brightly-decorated office stands out from the rest. Its walls are adorned with a colorful array of thank-you notes, drawings, and photos of loved ones. The shelves are filled with an eclectic collection of objects: textbooks on statistical computation and complex function theory, oversized vectors used in his renowned class, Math 22: “Vector Calculus and Linear Algebra,” large prisms crafted to teach symmetry and group theory in Math 101: “Sets, Groups, and Real Analysis,” and student artwork reading “We <3 Dusty.”
This vibrant office belongs to associate Mathematics lecturer Dusty E. Grundmeier, who exudes contagious warmth and enthusiasm. One of the most beloved professors at the College and coordinator of the Emerging Scholars Program, which combats educational inequities by supporting freshmen from under-resourced high school STEM programs, his upcoming departure from Harvard has prompted students to reflect on his past eight years at the school.
For some students, Grundmeier has changed the trajectory of their academic careers. Luke C. Jackson ’24 was only in the third week of his freshman year when he found himself on the verge of dropping Math 22A. “I was really struggling,” Jackson says, describing how he emailed his concerns to Grundmeier. “He replied so quickly saying, ‘Let’s have a meeting before you drop the class.’”
When they met, Jackson realized that Grundmeier “wanted me to be there.” He says Grundmeier was honest about the amount of work the course would entail, but rather than discourage him, he asked Jackson, “How can I support you in actually learning this material?” Following the meeting, Jackson signed up for peer tutoring, went to more office hours, and “actually read every page of the text,” propelled by the confidence Grundmeier had in him.
“I felt like he believed that I could do it. And to me, it made me believe I could do it too, as cheesy as that sounds,” Jackson says. He went on to declare a concentration in Mathematics in his sophomore year and now serves as a Math 22 course assistant.
Grundmeier’s humble and sincere commitment to his students is the pinnacle of his popularity, his influence extending even beyond Math concentrators. J. Sellers Hill ’25, a Crimson News reporter and former student of Grundmeier, says he was pleasantly surprised that he formed a relationship with Grundmeier in a class that he was simply taking as a requirement for his Integrative Biology concentration.
“I do remember that he would read my Crimson articles,” Hill says with a laugh. “I’ve never had another teacher who’s mentioned reading my articles or has ever mentioned noticing my name.”
“I remember one time last year, before we walked in the class, he had a printed-out sheet of all 200 of the students, and he had little notes on each of them,” Jackson says. “He was like, ‘Oh yeah, I quiz myself on every single one of them.’”
Tommy D. Kaminsky ’24, a former Math 22 student and a current course assistant, calls Grundmeier “super approachable,” “sort of silly,” and “down to earth.” He says that what makes Math 22 such a great class is that Grundmeier turns “math into a game.”
“The first p-sets — they’re literally just math puzzles. You don’t even realize that you’re learning proof writing strategies until a couple of weeks in,” Kaminsky says. “Subconsciously, you learn all the tools you need to do useful stuff.”
With Grundmeier, Kaminsky says that math seems “fun and intrinsically exciting.”
Grundmeier shares that he didn’t always know he wanted to go into academic teaching. “I sort of discovered through teaching that I really liked teaching. And I kept enjoying it more and more as I went,” he says.
Grundmeier says he stumbled upon his position at Harvard through “a little bit of a lot of luck” — a fortuitous late job posting. His wife had received a job offer at the University of Massachusetts Boston, and he wanted to work nearby. “I came to Harvard sort of through love,” Grundmeier says. “I was following my wife.”
Since Grundmeier started teaching Math 22A and 22B, student enrollment numbers in these courses have quadrupled.
“My teaching philosophy is to always center what you’re doing around the students and the student experience,” he says. “There’s a tension between trying to help — pushing someone to get them to grow and learn things — but not pushing them so hard that you break someone.”
It seems that Grundmeier has mastered that balance, according to his students.
“You can ask him anything but no matter how horribly you said it, no matter how badly you understand it — he’ll be able to answer it perfectly, and you’ll understand everything better,” Kaminsky says.
“A lot of these concepts are really complex, but he’s so methodical and clear, and he stops people at the right times,” he adds.
Students are sad to see Grundmeier leave Harvard. He will follow his wife next year, teaching in the math department at Ohio State University where she has accepted a tenured position as an Economics professor. Still, they share their appreciation for Grundmeier’s lasting impression on their experience at the College.
“He’s a great professor, but above all, he’s a great human,” Jackson says. “A real gem on this campus. I’m going to miss him so much.”
Upon leaving, Grundmeier wants to remind his students that he will continue to support them from wherever he is. “I’m always happy to be a mentor and a listening ear, to continue to give advice the best that I can,” he says. “I want them to know that I believe in them, and I’m so proud of them.”
—Magazine writer Ryan H. Doan-Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryandoannguyen.