Dr. Emily Puckette has been a math and statistics professor for 20 years. The community is incredibly lucky to have Puckette with her ability to inspire others and spread daily positivity. I had the opportunity to ask her some questions on the porch of the Archives.
Puckette, whose father was also a faculty member at the University, grew up in Sewanee. Before starting teaching at Sewanee, Puckette joined The Peace Corps, which allowed her to travel the world and work with communities in Central Africa. She explained that she was not surprised she ended up staying in Sewanee after the Peace Corps, and says her enjoyment of teaching and living in Sewanee kept her coming back semester after semester.
Puckette received her PhD from Duke University where she studied probability theory. She serves as the secretary of Sewanee’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter and as Co-director for the Center of Teaching, where she worked closely with faculty to prepare for new COVID-friendly teaching methods.
When asked about her biggest challenge during the pandemic, she said “Zoom screens!” She goes on to say that she misses interacting face to face with others. Even though there have been many negative effects to living in a pandemic, Puckette appreciates the amount of archival material now online, such as class notes, that has developed due to the restrictions of the pandemic. She tries to make her remote students feel as equally involved as in-person students by balancing in-person and online classes.
When asked what her hobbies are, she expressed her love for “hiking, doing all sorts of puzzles, reading (fiction mostly), and cooking.” One of her favorite trails is on Breakfield Road, an extension of the perimeter trail.
Despite many disruptions, she said she expresses thanks for ordinary, unrecognized things at Sewanee such as the “glorious sky and flowers… It matters to me a lot to be grateful for what one does have.”
She enjoys going outside and petting her dog, Tess, who loves to go hiking and running with her owners. Puckette also enjoys spending time with her son Elliott, a ninth-grader at St. Andrew’s Sewanee.
After the pandemic, she plans on visiting her family who she has not been able to see since the beginning of the pandemic. She wants to step back and observe what we have gone through, so she is more capable of moving forward positively.
Puckette’s favorite thing about teaching is when students have an “ah-ha” moment, the moment in which everything clicks. “A group of students feel unsure about a concept, get it all together, happy when they pull it all together, and move forward as a team.”
When asked what advice she would share with students, she responded with a mantra she tells her students every Friday, “use average intelligence,” a piece of motherly advice she carried with her since before college.