Michael Dorff encourages students to see people differently

Savannah Hopkinson
Michael Dorff, department chair of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, shares his love for math and encourages students to see others differently and treat all with compassion in his Tuesday devotional address. (Savannah Hopkinson)

Michael Dorff, department chair of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, began his devotional address with a confession.

“I have been wondering whether I should admit this to such a large crowd. But here we go … My confession is that I love mathematics!” Dorff said.

He said he recognized the word “math” may be associated with bad memories for many students, but encouraged people to see math in a different way.

“To me, math can be like a game of strategy such as ‘Settlers of Catan’. Once you know the rules of the game, you can explore where the game can take you,” Dorff said. 

He gave many examples of how math is used and said to him, mathematics is beautiful.

“You could be working at the Disney Research Group using math to create realistic looking hair in the movie Moana, or you could be designing a new method for Netflix to determine what movies a subscriber would like, or you could even be working on an abstract math problem that uncovers new results such as finding a fast algorithm to determine whether or not a number is prime,” Dorff said.

Dorrf said he hopes students will begin to see mathematics in a different and positive way, and additionally see their professors in a different and positive way. Some students are afraid of their professors, especially their math professors, according to Dorff.

Dorrf said he usually tells his students to call him “Coach Dorff” because he wants them to see him as their math coach. He said he wants to be someone who is there to guide them and help them succeed just like a sports coach would do.

“I want them to see me not as someone who is trying to fail them, but instead as someone who is trying to help them succeed,” Dorff said. “I want them to see me differently.”

Dorff spoke about the importance of treating all people with kindness regardless if they are different. He said the importance of showing compassion is a recurring theme in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He said, however, treating people with kindness is easier in theory than in practice.

Many of us are good at being kind to others especially in circumstances where we feel good,” Dorff said. “But it is harder to be kind when you haven’t slept well for several nights, or when you’re feeling sick, or when you’re stressed because of financial problems, or when you have procrastinated doing something important, such as writing that six-page paper for your class or finishing a presentation (perhaps, even a devotional talk).”

He said Christ’s teaching on the Sermon on the Mount invites people to be kind to those who act, look or think differently. Dorff said it is important to treat people with kindness because it’s impossible to know what is going on in their lives. 

“People do not wear a sign hanging from their neck displaying their current struggles. No one is wearing a sign that declares ‘I’m scared I am going to fail my math class’, or ‘I had a fight with my best friend’, or ‘My mother passed away yesterday’, or ‘I am having a low blood sugar diabetic reaction’, or ‘I have cancer,'” he said.

In conclusion, Dorff said Jesus Christ sees people differently. Christ doesn’t see people as they currently are, but as they may become in the future.

“I am awed by the love he has for me who does not deserve it, and for the love he has for all of us, no matter who we are, no matter how different we may be from those around us, and no matter what struggles we have in our lives,” Dorff said. 

The next devotional address will be given on Tuesday, April 10 by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

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