Upcoming retirement just a concept for New Kensington mathematics professor

His research interests involve abstract algebra, such as finite fields and polynomials. His teaching interest involves basic math, such as number theory and vector calculus. Since 1986, Javier Gomez-Calderon, professor of mathematics at Penn State New Kensington, has introduced generations of campus students to the wonders of trigonometry, calculus, matrices and number theory.
A finite number class is appropriate this semester as Gomez-Calderon’s number is 27 – that is, years at the campus before he retires in June after teaching a final summer class.
“I have enjoyed teaching all courses, but I do love teaching basic math, especially number theory and vector calculus,” said Gomez-Calderon, who teaches upper- and lower-level mathematics courses. “I love interacting with  my students every day, and teaching them how to solve problems and equations.”
Ever since he was a boy growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, Gomez-Calderon dreamed about teaching at the university level. After teaching mathematics for eight years at several Mexican institutions and seven years as a graduate associate and teaching assistant at the University of Arizona, where he earned his master's and doctorate degrees in mathematics, he realized his dream when he joined the New Kensington mathematics department.
“I have always liked mathematics and talked math with my young friends,” Gomez-Calderon said. "Mathematics is universal, and it is just beautiful to me."
In 1996, he was awarded full professorship, the campus’ second full professor. Former chancellor, Roy Myers, professor emeritus of engineering, was the first. Charles “Bud” Gibbons, professor of visual arts, earned membership in the exclusive club in 2008. Full professor is the highest rank attained by Penn State faculty members.
“I have spent the best years of my life at New Kensington, and I cannot imagine a better way of spending this part of my life,” Gomez-Calderon said. “I respect the work, dedication and kindness of the faculty. It has been a real honor to be part of it.”
During his tenure at the campus, Gomez-Calderon has been the recipient of numerous teaching awards. In 2007, he was selected for the Milton S. Eisenhower Award for Distinguished Teaching. The Eisenhower Award is a University-wide honor that recognizes excellence in teaching and student support among tenured faculty members in the Penn State system. Milton Eisenhower, brother of former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, served as president of Penn State from 1950 to 1956.
"I have been living my dream of teaching mathematics for more than two-thirds of my life," the self-effacing Gomez-Calderon said. "I am not an outstanding teacher nor am I an important mathematician. I simply enjoy doing my job"
He pursued his profession because of the demands it places on teaching and learning; both concerning students and colleagues. He encourages student questions and suggestions, and serves as mentor for and mentee of peers and friends.
"In my opinion, teaching and learning always go together," Gomez-Calderon said. "How can I teach if I am not learning?"
In addition to the Eisenhower award, Gomez-Calderon is a two-time recipient of the campus' Excellence in Teaching Award, 1989 and 1997. The award recognizes faculty performance in the classroom, as well as in other activities such as advising, supervision of learning outside the classroom and course development. In 2002, he was honored with the Commonwealth College Outstanding Research Award and in 1996 with the Teresa Cohen Mathematics Service Award.
"It has been an honor to work with Javier whose passion for math is exceeded only by his devotion to his students, and he has truly set the bar high for teaching and learning on our campus,” said Andrea Adolph, director of academic affairs. “When I meet campus alumni, they often inquire about their former teachers, and Javier is one of the first professors they ask about. It's an inspiration to witness how many lives he has reached through his dedication and instruction."
The New Kensington campus hasn’t been the only beneficiary of Gomez-Calderon’s mathematical dexterity. For four years, 2002-06, he served as the Mathematics Division Head for 14 Penn State campuses across the state.
"I supervised the curriculum, maintained academic consistency across the campuses, and communicated with faculty and academic administrators," said Gomez-Calderon, who has authored or co-authored 32 articles and four books.
Excellence in teaching runs in his family. His wife, Maria Franco de Gomez, instructor in Spanish at the campus, also has won the Excellence in Teaching award twice — 1998 as a part-time instructor and 2004 as a full-time instructor. Franco de Gomez, is also retiring at the end of the semester. In addition, she was honored with the 2011 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. The University-wide award, named after Penn State's seventh president, is presented each year to six full-time faculty members who have devoted substantial effort to and developed a record of excellence in undergraduate teaching.
The 64-year-old Gomez-Calderon's passions are not limited to academia. Soccer has been a lifelong avocation, both as a player and a coach. He played indoor and outdoor soccer until the age of 55 and coached high school soccer as recently as 2011.
He was the head coach of the girls soccer team at Plum High School for seven years, 1998-2006, guiding the Mustangs into the playoffs three times. In 2001, he was named Coach of the Year by the Valley News Dispatch.
A back injury sidelined "Coach G," as he is known on the pitch, and he resigned the position. After rehabilitation, he was lured out of retirement in 2006 by Mike Spangnolo to serve as assistant coach for the girls' team at Burrell High School. In 2008, he returned to the head coaching ranks and succeeded Spangnolo. He served three years at Burrell before retiring for good in 2011.
"I have great memories of my tenure at Plum, and the team did well after I left," said Coach G., a resident of Plum Borough. "I left Plum assuming that I was done with soccer, but Mike invited me to join him and be part of another great soccer team.”
Retirement for Gomez-Calderon won’t involve soccer, save for watching World Cup matches, but it will involve mathematics. Without a set academic schedule, Gomez-Calderon has the freedom to continue his pursuit of teaching and learning.
“I’ll have time to read more, and to think and reflect on mathematics,” said Gomez-Calderon. “My dream of teaching is still alive. Nothing is set for the future, so I am open to all opportunities.”
“Maybe someone will hire me to teach a seminar across the globe,” he said with a laugh.
For 42 years, Gomez-Calderon has stood in front of a chalkboard, writing equations, manipulating numbers and explaining theories. For the professor, it was always about educating the students. Letting go of that is the downside to moving on to the next phase of life.
“I have always had a substantial group of students who have made my teaching life extremely enjoyable and rewarding,” Gomez-Calderon said. “I have been very lucky."

In addition to his students, Gomez-Calderon will also miss the camaraderie of his colleagues. Informal banter with fellow educators, be it in the hallway, cafeteria or an office, presented an opportunity to get a different point of view, and to learn something.

“We need daily conversations with our colleagues, and I will miss it because I learned so much from it,” Gomez-Calderon said. “I will never forget this place and in particular the people here who have won my admiration and respect.

Despite the possibility of a teaching gig on some tropical island, Gomez-Calderon and Franco de Gomez will maintain their roots in Plum Borough.

The couple has three grown children: a son, Javier Gomez-Franco, and daughters Angie Martelli, who is married to Steve Martelli, and Liliana Gomez-Franco, who is married to Wayne Kirley.

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Last Updated January 10, 2015