W&M Libraries selects new faculty scholar

Dr. Lawrence Leemis, professor of mathematics at William & Mary, has been named the next William & Mary Libraries Faculty Scholar.

Dr. Lawrence Leemis, professor of mathematics at William & Mary"I am very excited to be selected,” said Leemis. “This position provides a great opportunity to focus on my scholarship and research.”

Leemis has taught in the mathematics department at W&M for 27 years, and has gained numerous accolades over the years, including the university’s Thomas A. Graves Teaching Award in 2013 and Plumeri Award for Faculty Excellence in 2010.

Leemis will serve as the Libraries’ faculty scholar for three years, beginning in fall 2019. As faculty scholar, he will partner with library colleagues on several initiatives. Principal among them is the creation of an open textbook for applied statistics. The textbook will be used by undergraduates and graduate students in the Computational and Applied Mathematics and Statistics program and data science majors.

“Although there are grants that offer an economic incentive for writing a book of this nature, my need is for the time to write such a book, and the William & Mary Libraries Faculty Scholar program will provide that dedicated time," said Leemis.

Open textbooks are published under an open copyright license, and made available online to be used freely by students, teachers and others. With universities increasingly looking for ways to ease the burden of textbook costs on students, open textbooks have become a way for faculty to make their courses more affordable for their students.  

“Academic libraries are leading on the topic of textbook affordability, and we want to support William & Mary’s growth in data science,” said Dean of University Libraries Carrie Cooper. “This project allows us to support faculty who want to be part of the open movement.” 

Marian Taliaferro, digital scholarship librarian, who served on the selection committee, said Leemis’ project spoke strongly to the committee members, especially its connection to the Libraries’ ongoing efforts to raise awareness of the cost savings that can be gained by adopting open educational resources.

“It dovetails nicely with a project we will kick off this fall to partner with members across the campus community in search of textbook affordability solutions,” said Taliaferro.

Although not new to publishing – Leemis has had seven textbooks published – this open textbook will be his first experience publishing under a creative commons license and writing with open principles as a goal.

“I plan to approach this the way I approach writing a textbook intended for print,” he said. “First step is research; then I’ll write exercises. The hard part, and the unknown for me, is the technical side of creating a digital book.”

For the publishing phase, Leemis will be working closely with the Libraries’ digital services team to select and implement an online platform to host the textbook.

He expects the project to reach across teams, departments and disciplines.

“There are so many opportunities to collaborate on this project. In addition to working with Swem’s librarians and web developers, there are statisticians and data scientists in various departments and programs across campus who I will need to collaborate with in order to complete the proposed textbook,” Leemis said.

W&M Libraries created the faculty scholar position in 2016 as part of an effort to engaging faculty in a variety of ways so as to enhance student learning and strengthen the institution.

“The faculty scholar position provides a path for deep collaboration between librarians, staff members and faculty,” said Cooper. “The outcomes are impressive too – open resources in emerging areas of interest, such as Cuban film culture and data science.”

She went on to express gratitude to Dean of Arts & Sciences Kate Conley, Mathematics Department Chair Junping Shi, and generous donors for acknowledging the importance of this position and offering their support.