Diversity Dialogues - Marvin L. Bittinger

By Karen Gaines posted 01-03-2023 17:03:30


The following is
Written by Marvin L. Bittinger 
Edited by Marilyn Mays

The Many Careers of Marvin L. Bittinger
Marvin L. Bittinger: The Man Who Revolutionized Publishing for Developmental Math for College

This bio traces the mathematics education career of Marvin L. Bittinger. From Manchester College to Ohio State University to Purdue University to a position as Prof of Math Ed at IUPUI. Along the way, I was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at The United States Air Force Academy and the author of numerous math textbooks for Addison/Wesley and Pearson Education. The goal of this bio is to inspire readers to overcome the bumps in life and pursue a career based on mathematics.  

My career evolved like that of so many, with its highs and lows. There was no divine aspiration to be a mathematician and certainly none to be a math textbook author. 

Born in Akron, Ohio, I was the son of a truck driver for Standard Oil of Ohio and the Grandson of a factory worker for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company. I went to college and grad school with the intent of being a math professor in a small Christian college, being in my office all day, teaching and caring for my students. But God had another plan, and I became a math textbook author for then Addison-Wesley Pub Co, later Pearson Education. Counting the original texts and the revisions, I have written over 250 books.  

I’m often asked why I love mathematics. The answer is multi-faceted and ranges from the beauty of the symbolism & graphs, equation solving, proofs, the use of imagination and creativity, the development of applications, and the writing of math textbooks. 

My life began with a real low spot; my mother died ten days after my birth. She was suffering from what today would probably be referred to as an extreme case of "postpartum depression." She fell to her death from a hospital window.

I was raised by my maternal grandmother. To this day, I am thankful to her for my upbringing, especially the time I spent on her lap learning the Bible. My grandmother and several other family members placed a profound emphasis on going to college. It wasn't whether I was going, but where.

I also had the physical disadvantage of having only one good eye. The other was a lazy eye, which was not effective in my vision or depth perception. I dreamed of two professions in my youth. One was to be a professional baseball player, and the other was to be a jet fighter pilot.    Clear vision with excellent depth perception is essential to both professions.  

One reason I ended up in mathematics was an amazing string of really great math teachers, starting with Betty Mae Burke in 7th grade, later Dorothy Leffler at East High School, followed by John K. Baumgart and David Neuhouser at Manchester College.  

I attended Manchester College in Indiana with the intent of completing a Co-Op degree in Engineering:  2 years at Manchester and 3 years at Purdue. But I struggled to make B’s in Chemistry and really battled for C’s in Physics. I was miserable. I didn't like or enjoy Physics or my professor, and I knew those grades were not going to qualify me for Purdue.

I can remember the spot by the library, where when walking to class, a still, small voice came to me asking. "Marv, what subject do you like best at Manchester?" My answer: math. "What subject do you get the best grades in?" My answer: math. "Then, why don't you major in math?" My immediate reaction was to head to my counselor, drop physics, and declare math as a major. It was a major act of serendipity. Success followed, and I became a top student in math.

I chose to attend The Ohio State University for graduate school. These were the lowest two years of my life. It started with poor course placement in courses one level above where I should have been placed and taught by two of the worst professors in the department. It improved considerably when I found a friend who tutored me and two wonderful professors who laid a foundation for proof for me. I truly learned to do proofs at Ohio State.  

I married my wife, Elaine, in 1965 and transitioned to Purdue University to pursue a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education.  I now had a stable home life and the proof-maturity to function well in my math courses. My dissertation topic was a consideration of the notion of students attaining a background in logic and proof before studying advanced courses – the background I needed most in grad school.

After graduating with a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education in 1968, I accepted a position at IUPUI, Indiana University – Purdue University at Indianapolis. It was an ideal position from which to teach and pursue my writing career. At IUPUI, I had the time to become an author and the regard of a university that valued a writing career. I was there until my writing took over my life in the late '80s, and I left the university, remaining loosely tied to the math department.

While attending Purdue University, I met Prof. Mervin L. (Mike) Keedy in an advanced geometry class. My 50+ year career as an author of math textbooks for college students began with a discussion in Mike’s office. I was there asking questions about the course. However, I knew he was a very successful math textbook author and decided to ask how one gets started.  


His response was "to associate yourself with someone who is successful. By the way, I have a manuscript over here that 2 or 3 people have worked on, but none brought to completion. Would you like to work on it?" It was like throwing raw meat at a wolf. I grasped that opportunity with fervor, working on it while I was finishing my dissertation.

That was the start of my producing a long line of books. Three of those books, the so-called “Trilogy” of remedial college textbooks, virtually revolutionized that portion of college publishing.  

Being a math textbook author has been very rewarding. Writing demands a sort of passionate lust to get the book out of my soul. I recall the many hours working until late at night or the stealing of 15-30 minutes of time just before church. Indeed, I could not have completed my work without an amazing, understanding wife like Elaine. In addition, my two caring and supportive sons, Lowell and Chris, also enhanced my life.  

As with many lives, some of my most outstanding experiences happened unexpectedly. I had the good fortune to meet two Officers from the US Air Force Academy, Paul Rudd and Tony Johnson, at a National Math Meeting. They were using our algebra-trigonometry book at the Academy and were quite pleased with it. Soon followed a visit to the Academy and an offer to come and be a visiting professor. The teaching, the learning, the discipline, the ride in the T-28, the glider ride, and the wonderful people, all made for an exhilarating experience.  

My poor eyesight also closed the door to my dream of becoming a professional baseball player. But the second door opened when I wrote a book on hitting with Dusty Baker, present Manager of the Houston Astros. The book was entitled Dusty Baker’s Hitting Handbook (aka, You Can Teach Hitting). I learned that mathematics has many applications to baseball apart from statistical computations. I was the sole author of a second book about the subject, Baseball and Mathematics. This book is available at no charge and can be found on my website, the address of which is given at the end of this bio.  

I’m 81 now, and having survived a heart attack in 1998 and a quintuple bypass in 2016, I am trying to finish well by creating and presenting talks on various aspects of mathematics and, in my own special way, becoming a goodwill ambassador for mathematics. Thereby, I hope to be a goodwill ambassador for the subject. Part of that effort is the opportunity to write this bio and prepare a study skills video for AMATYC, for which I thank them sincerely.  

My most recent book, and maybe the one of which I am the most proud is entitled The Faith Equation: Mathematical Evidence for Christianity. A more detailed autobiography with additional information about my books, talks, and mathematical interests can be found on my website (see address below). If you are interested in my coming to your area and giving a talk (at no charge), contact me at one of the following:

Cell: 317-690-3336