Faculty Spotlight: Doctor Marion Oliver, professor at CMUQ

By Mohamed Benkermi September, 2014

Every year, over a hundred new students are accepted into CMUQ. Some may study Business Administration or Information systems, while others delve into Computer Science or Biological Science. However, virtually every single student that enrols in CMUQ takes at least one class with probably the university’s most famous professor - Dr. Marion Oliver.

Dr. Marion Oliver is a professor of mathematical sciences at CMUQ, and has been part of the university’s faculty since its inception in 2004. For the past ten years, Oliver has been teaching Calculus I and II to the incoming freshmen, and preparing them for their incoming journey at Carnegie Mellon Qatar. Well known for his never-ending support for his students, his joyous personality and famous laugh, Oliver has become an icon of CMUQ, and is considered by many to be a mentor and a paternal figure. My Education City sat down with Professor Oliver and got to know him a little bit better.

Why did Oliver choose to come and teach at CMUQ?
After getting his PhD in mathematics from CMU in 1971 and working there for ten years, Dr. Marion Oliver landed a job at the University of Pennsylvania, eventually becoming the vice dean of the prestigious Wharton School of Business. After a long, successful and achievement-riddled career, Oliver moved on to the corporate world with a job at Mobil Oil. There, he spent ten years, eight of which as the manager of international training. Before joining CMUQ, Oliver taught for four years in Florida A&M before ending up in Qatar. With a PhD in mathematics, extensive knowledge in business and the Middle-East, and after a long career in the CMU home campus, to him, teaching at CMUQ was “an ideal situation.”

Why does Professor Oliver like teaching freshmen so much?
“It’s very difficult to explain,” he said. “The students are just incredible. I have no idea how I establish the relationships with them, but it’s just so very very nice. I have such a relationship with them that it makes me want to teach the calculus class, makes me want to be there every morning. It’s amazing. When I lost my wife in 2008, it’s my relationship with my students that kept my feet on the ground…that’s why I do it, I like it, I’ll do it till I die. The thing I think is interesting, that I like, is that when I see you coming in as a freshman, and then when I see you as a junior, then a senior, and you see that growth taking place, that change. And that’s amazing.”

What memory of event sticks out about the freshman?
Oliver mentioned a post published on the “CMUQ confessions” page, where an anonymous person posted, “I wish professor O. was my father”. Today, anyone who walks by Professor Oliver’s office can see a copy of the Facebook post hung outside his office. Any similarities or recurring themes between the different freshmen batches? “Most of them are really not prepared for this place, not prepared for what CMU means and what’s going to be expected of them. It’s not true for every one of them, but the majority are not prepared for what business is about, what CS is about. Our biology program is not about leaves and frogs, it, it’s about biochemistry.”

Anything similar between this year’s freshmen and Professor Oliver’s freshman year?
“When I was a freshmen, the people in university ruled with an iron hand. The idea of questioning something someone was saying, things like that just didn’t happen, so we were a lot easier to deal with. You guys are more knowledgeable, you guys know stuff, and even when you don’t, you can find the answers quicker than anything in the world. If I wanted to research something, it was by going to the library, looking through BOOKS.”

He added, “I went to an institution that was similar to this one, small. Which I like about CMUQ, there’s an intimacy between professors and students that’s allowed here that you can’t get in many other places. If you go to main campus for example, it’s not there. You’re just another pea in the pod. People don’t know if you’re in class, they don’t care if you’re in class. But here is different. Most people don’t care about your presence in class. They care about their research, as teaching is a consequence of being at university. But this place is about teaching, we come here and you’re a teaching professor means you care about what happens inside your classroom, and outside too. That’s a big difference.”

Professor Oliver’s advice for freshmen and final words.
“This year’s freshmen were scared a lot, people telling them how hard it is and this and that, and I tell them they need to focus and concentrate. They look and they see seniors in their majors and juniors and sophomores. They didn’t get there by being scared, so if you put in the time, that too will happen to you instead of letting yourself get paralysed by this fear. Just work, go to class, talk to good people and get advice from them.”

You heard him, freshmen. As soon as you join EC, you are never alone. It’s natural to be intimidated by the completely different environment and increased workload. However, you do not have to deal with this on your own, as you can always rely on your batch mates for support or on the upperclassmen for help.

Happy first month of classes!