Dr. Jennifer Bruce: living life of mathematics, music and motherhood

Jennifer Bruce, and her daughter Annie, enjoy their time together outdoors. Although Bruce enjoys teaching all of her math classes, Calculus 2, often cited among math majors for being the most difficult of her three Calculus courses, tops the list as her favorite. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jennifer Bruce

Within the office of Dr. Jennifer Bruce are not only stacks of math books, but also colorful paintings of rainbows and “I love you’s” from her daughter, Annie. These things reflect two of her three greatest passions: math, music and motherhood.

When asked how she found her way into the career of teaching, Bruce answered enthusiastically.

“Both of my parents were teachers,” she said. “I grew up thinking I wanted to be a teacher—or a veterinarian. I’ve always loved animals. After college I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, so graduate school for math seemed like a good choice.”

When Bruce was at graduate school, she assisted in teaching elementary math courses at the undergraduate college affiliated with her grad program.

“I just fell in love with it,” she said.

She said that her favorite aspect of teaching is the relationship she is able to establish with her students.

“I get to know them, you know, mentor them,” she said. “I love being able to see what happens to them, and I love when I get to go to their weddings.”

She smiled and said, “I’m just the happiest when I am in the classroom!”

Bruce hypothesized that the common hatred of math that students exhibit can be traced back to “a horrible experience with a bad a math teacher.”

“But I like the challenge of helping students like this,” she said confidently. “I want to show everyone that they can do and like it.”

She explained that her favorite class to teach is introduction to statistics, because there is a mixture of students who find it easy and “the few who have had that bad previous experience with math.”     “And you never have to doubt the usefulness of statistics,” she added.

In addition to teaching, Bruce also has passion for music.  She double-majored in mathematics and music as an undergraduate.

“I just wasn’t sure which I wanted to do,” she said. “But I chose math. Math is more stable.”

However, Bruce owns a very strong background in music, having sung in church choirs since she was small. She has participated in vocal lessons since the eighth grade.

She also participated in high school musicals.

“I wasn’t the greatest actress,” she said. “So I always had one of the supporting roles, because at least I had a strong voice.”

Some of her favorites that she acted in were “Pippin,” “Maine” and “Dames at Sea.”

She continued singing in her graduate school choir, where she met her husband, a professor at the University of Tennessee.

“I was a first soprano, and he was a bass,” she said. “He would always lean down and flirt with me during practice. We were quite a pair.”

She is now a member of the Knoxville Choral Society and performs often. Some of Bruce’s favorite selections of music include Handel’s “Messiah,” chamber music and “anything by Mozart.”

Bruce’s love of music originated from her mother, who is also a singer.

“She and I both sing together in choir,” Bruce said. “It’s very special to me.”

She enjoys her time out of the classroom caring for her animals, which include two dogs, a cat and a rabbit, as well as gardening vegetables and reading Stephen King novels.

But her favorite pastime is spending time with her 4-year-old, Annie.

“All of my spare time is devoted to my daughter,” said Bruce.

The younger Bruce might just follow in her mother’s footsteps.

“I’m happy because my daughter wants to be a singer, as well,” she said. “As well as a ballerina, veterinarian and a princess.”

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