Prof energizes Willis Junior High Mathletes The Chandler Arizonan

Prof energizes Willis Junior High Mathletes

Prof energizes Willis Junior High Mathletes

Arizonian News Staff


Aspiring mathematicians at Willis Junior High School in Chandler got an energizing boost of support from an Arizona State University engineering professor emeritus who developed a website that rates the safety of cars and trucks.

Professor Emeritus Dr. Norma Hubele had special T-shirts designed for the school’s Mathlete Club and teacher-club sponsor Joshua Edwards said the new gear energized the approximate 20 seventh and eighth graders who are members.

“Her donation to the club with these incredible shirts really got everyone excited,” said Edwards, a teacher at Willis for six years who is in the math department for this first time this school year.

“The shirts and her support are the reason I even started the club,” he said. “Her impact has created something I can build on for years to come.

Edwards said Hubele had the students design the custom Ts.

“They really felt proud of the shirt they produced,” Edwards explained. “Norma is also my sounding board for math questions as I look towards my students’ futures. I get her counsel on questions like, ‘What are key skills my math students need for future success?’ ‘What should my junior high students focus on as they pursue the idea of STEM fields?’”

Although Hubele has no role in club activities, she met with them “to congratulate them on their commitment to learning and encourage them in their pursuits.”

Her donation had a deeper motivation.

“I am an educator and think that young students should be encouraged in every way possible to challenge themselves,” Hubele said. “Membership in the club is a good example of that willingness to be challenged.”

She also noted, “Josh is a dedicated teacher, and I wanted to support his efforts.”

Edwards said the club meets with an eye toward interscholastic math competitions in the near future.

“We have met during lunch to race through some math questions or solve math riddles in groups as a way to celebrate math,” he said. “The plan is to compete. Every year around March our school sends a team to the East Valley math competition that is typically hosted at Newell Barney Middle School. We plan to compete there.”

The club also competed in the national SIGMA Math Competition, placing fourth in its grade division among 19 schools

Hubele also said there’s also a safety motivation.

On the one hand, she said, “the shirts represent a way to say ‘The Auto Professor is proud of what you are doing.’”

But she also said, “If they and their families explore my site, then all the better. Together, we can change the world.’”

Hubele has logged a number of accomplishments in math and engineering – not the least of which in her 20+ year career at Arizona State University was holding the position of director of strategic initiatives for the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering and being professor in ASU’s Department of Industrial Engineering.

She graduated magna cum laude from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in math. She followed her master’s in operations research and statistics with a doctorate in computer and systems engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

After earning her Ph.D., she also became co-owner and vice president for quality control in a Chandler company called Refrac System, which her husband Norman founded after leaving corporate life.

She spent a year crunching a virtual mountain of crash data to develop – which grades thousands of makes and models of vehicles on the likelihood of death from a crash. 

The ratings are based on statistics from the fatal accident reports all law enforcement agencies have been required for years to send to the U.S. Department of Transportation and its National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

As a result, users can go to the website and, without charge, plug in not just a model, year and make – but their own age and gender as well – to find Hubele’s statistically-driven assessment of what that historical data says about the protection that vehicle provides.

Hubele says her site offers a far greater level of assurance and evaluation than the ratings by either the NHTSA or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety because those two agencies base much of their evaluation on the results of front-end collisions with dummies.

She also has been an expert witness for years in litigation involving crashes.

Her background impressed the Willis Mathletes, according to Edwards, who noted, “Norma came down and met with the kids and they really enjoyed getting to talk to her about her applied math.”

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