It Runs in the Family
Spring 2012 Issue | By Andrew Taylor
Father, Daughter exude pride for Pocatello and Idaho State University
If there is an Idaho State University Distinguished Scholar gene, scientists might want to examine the DNA of Pocatello's Hill family for some clues and ISU administrators may want to learn to clone it.
Richard and Cynthia Hill are a rare father-daughter team in higher education. They have worked at Idaho State University for a combined 60 years; this spring Richard is finishing his 45th year, Cindy her 15th.
As unusual as it is for this pair to teach at the same institution, it is possibly unheard of that such a duo has been honored with its institution's highest academic awards. Both Hills have been honored with ISU Distinguished Faculty Awards. Richard, a math professor, was honored as Distinguished Researcher in 1990, and Cindy, an economics professor and current director of the ISU Student Success Center, was honored with the Distinguished Public Service Award in 2009. Cindy was further honored as the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching Idaho Professor of the Year in the 2004-05 academic year.
Richard, 72, has worked at ISU since 1967, the same year Cindy, one of his three children, was born. Cindy came to work at Idaho State University 30 years later. Individually and collectively their service to Idaho State University has been remarkable.
The elder Hill said he plans on teaching and researching full time several more years, as long as he remains healthy. During the last year, however, he experienced a hip injury that has been slow to heal, making it painful to stand, so he may retire earlier.
"He's still teaching full time and he loves it," said Cindy of her father. "He loves math and that's why he hasn't retired yet. He can't imagine not doing math every single day of his life."
Richard teaches a full load - in fall 2011 he taught three courses: linear algebra, calculus and trigonometry - and he is pursuing his research interests, linear algebra and matrix theory. He has had 36 papers published in refereed journals.
His papers have titles such as "Inertia Theory for a Finite Set of Complex Matrices," and other topics outside the understanding of a lay audience, but his research ideas have been applied to help design an orthopedic limb and were used in a NASA project.
The highlight of his career has been interacting with students. Richard is still known on campus for having his students, sometimes all at once, come to the blackboards in his classrooms, so he can help several students at once complete their work and students can help each other.
"I think the interaction with the doctoral students I've directed is probably the highlight of my career," he said. "I'm really proud that I've directed 16 doctoral students through their dissertations, spending hours and hours and hours with them. I've had the pleasure of working with some outstanding students."
As much as Richard has enjoyed his career in academia, both he and Cindy said he never pushed his daughter to pursue a career in higher education.
"I didn't push her at all," Richard said. "She's always pursued her own interests and was easy to raise. She did her schoolwork, did her athletics, and was always active. She got a lot out of her high school and college experiences."
For her part, Cindy said, "As a dad, he was always the type of person who said 'do what makes you happy' and 'fulfill your own life.' He never pushed a career in higher education; when I first went to college I thought I wanted to be a lawyer."
Both Richard and Cindy played tennis at the college level, but the sport played a larger role in Cindy's life early on. In high school, Cindy was one of the top tennis players in the state, finishing second in singles as a freshman and senior. The other two years of her prep career she represented Idaho at Seventeen Magazine's annual teen tennis tournament in California that featured the top prep players in the nation.
After graduating from high school, Cindy played No. 1 singles at the University of Montana, where she earned her undergraduate degree in economics, and was an assistant tennis coach at Washington State University, where she earned her doctorate in economics. She also coached tennis at the high school level while attending WSU.
Cindy, for the most part, quit playing tennis after graduate school because it takes too much time to stay at the varsity playing level. Her father, however, when not injured, is still a regular on the tennis courts.
She was thrilled when ISU offered her a teaching position.
"ISU was the perfect place for me," continued Hill. "When they offered me the job I felt like I'd won the lottery, that I'd be able to come back and be with my family and work at a university that really cares about learning and teaching."
Cindy began at ISU as a visiting instructor in fall 1997, then became a tenure-track faculty member the next year. Initially, she held a faculty position, but has since held several administrative positions, while continuing to teach economics. She was director of the ISU Honors Degree Program, the only one in the state, for about three years, director for the ISU Center for Teaching and Learning for three years, and has been the executive director the ISU Student Success Center for the last two years.
"My true love is teaching, but I also really do enjoy helping students achieve their goals, whether it is in the classroom or through the Student Success Center or the University Honors Program, " Cindy said.
A recent highlight of her career is being the co-author of the new edition of the university-level McGraw-Hill economics textbook, "The Economy Today," by lead author Bradley Schiller.
"McGraw-Hill contacted me out of the blue, and said Brad Schiller wanted me to be co-author on his textbook," Cindy said. "Working on this textbook is one of the hardest things I've ever done, but it has been extremely satisfying."
Her interests are not bound by her academic endeavors. She was honored with her Distinguished Public Service Award for efforts outside of the university setting, including work with Gateway Habitat for Humanity since 2004 and work with the "Trick or Treat for the Mind" book drive and reading campaign for disadvantaged youth.