14:03 PM

Helping Students Succeed Fuels Math Professor

By Bradi Zapata

Students and alumni fondly recount their time at Cal State San Marcos, and of those who have majored in mathematics, one common thread is shared: experiences with mathematics professor Dr. André Kündgen.

For over 22 years, Kündgen has walked into his classes full of energy and made his way toward a chalkboard stamped with challenging yet accessible equations and concepts. Among students, he has a reputation for evoking feelings of excitement, curiosity and, most importantly, confidence.

It is for his exceptional accomplishments in teaching, research and service that Kündgen was presented the Harry E. Brakebill Distinguished Professor Award for the 2022-23 academic year. The award was established in 1993 in honor of Harry E. Brakebill, who served as the financial adviser to the first California State College administration. 

“I hold the award in a very high esteem,” Kündgen said. “The Brakebill Award has been built on tradition, and the former recipients of this award are some of the most dedicated people I know because they place students at the centerpiece of their work.”

Kündgen is similar in this regard. He is a dedicated mathematician, fueled by helping his students succeed. Over the years, he’s continued to stay connected with many students, becoming their mentor and even their colleague, travel partner, research collaborator and friend.

Craig Timmons, associate professor for the Department of Mathematics and Statistics for California State University Sacramento, is a prime example.

“Kündgen’s mentorship not only changed my academic path but helped me grow as a person at a pivotal time in my life,” Timmons said. “At the start of the fall 2023 semester, it has been 20 years since (I first met Kündgen in) Math 160 and we still keep in touch because he really cared about me as an individual.”

During mathematics alumni gatherings, many recall their mutual feelings of uncertainty toward mathematics when they began their journey at CSUSM. Then, after taking Kündgen’s courses, feeling enthusiastic about the subject and supported enough to pursue a career of their own in the field. Even though his homework is “famously difficult,” he makes complex concepts click, teaches a growth mindset impossible to learn from a textbook, and allows mistakes to be approached with curiosity rather than embarrassment. These are some of the many reasons Kündgen is cherished among the mathematics alumni community.

“In a subject that’s so stigmatized, I truly believe that learning those skills was crucial for me to persist and succeed in mathematics, especially as a woman,” said Jennifer Brich, CSUSM alumna, lecturer and director of the STEM Success Center.

“Kundgen is a major inspiration behind my success. This includes my own social mobility as a Hispanic/Latino, first-generation college student who grew from having no idea what a mathematician did to becoming an associate professor of mathematics at a regional state institution,” alumnus Dr. Michael Santana said. “Because of him, I have the opportunity to inspire other students.”

As a mathematician, Kündgen’s research falls within the fields of graph theory and combinatorics, with a particular interest in the graph theory subfields of extremal combinatorics and graph coloring. With a joyous smile, Kündgen shares that he particularly likes graph coloring because of its accessibility to students and because the diverse puzzles allow him to see those sparks of ingenuity and creativity in students.

Kündgen frequently advocates for students’ like Timmons, Brich and Santana while serving on CSUSM committees that include:

  • Academic Senate vice chair (2020-22); secretary (2008/09, 2018-20); Promotion and Tenure Committee (2020-2022); and Professional Leave committee (2012 and 2017).
  • Assistance in the Noyce and Calc Boost initiatives, which recruited some of the most dedicated and talented mathematics majors at CSUSM into becoming the next generation of education leaders.
  • Chair of the Department of Mathematics (2012-15), where he has helped convert a former one-size-fits major into an option model with different programs built to prepare students for their varying next steps.
  • One of the organizers in the annual Reid Lecture, which has routinely brought in 300-plus members of the community to CSUSM, since 2015.

Much of his university service also promotes his strong belief in shared governance. This is demonstrated throughout one of his proudest involvements, the creation of a lecturer committee and committee of the Academic Senate. These work groups tackled historic levels of distrust between long-time lecturers and tenure track faculty about the role of lecturers in shared governance.

“These involvements aren’t always a labor of love but a labor of service," Kündgen said. "I’m giving back to the university and making sure things are represented in the correct way, to whatever capacity that may be. It’s important work because the more complacent we get, the more autonomy we give away. And so it was really important to me to have strong voices in all these service roles.”

Outside of the university, Kündgen also serves his discipline. Since 2004, he has been a managing editor of the Electronic Journal of Combinatorics (E-JC), an electronic journal that is of no cost to the author and no cost to the reader. Within the field of mathematics, knowledge is, at times, held hostage by the publisher rather than being accessible to mathematicians around the world. All E-JC editors, including Kündgen, work for free to increase open access publishing and giving knowledge back to the people.

In addition to E-JC, some additional reasons Kündgen received the prestigious Brakebill award include his impact to the mathematics field through:

  • Co-authoring 37 papers (some published in collaboration with CSUSM students).
  • Presenting at more than 80 presentations nationally and internationally.
  • Serving as visiting professor at the Technical University of Denmark.

Media Contact

Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist

ebreier@csusm.edu | Office: 760-750-7314