A Mind for Numbers, a Commitment to Serve Eau Claire County

UW Connections in Eau Claire County

Data Source: University of Wisconsin Service Center

Did you know that Eau Claire is home to a superstar of math education?

Donna Wagner Backus ’71 was the first person in her family to go to college — but the seeds of her education started at home.

“My father had an eighth-grade education,” says Backus. “But he was a self-taught engineer.”

That aptitude for math passed on to Backus, who went on to find success in school and eventually began looking at colleges. She visited smaller campuses such as UW–Whitewater and UW–Oshkosh before settling on UW–Sheboygan for her first two years of college.

It was during a trip to visit a friend at UW–Madison during the WIAA boys’ basketball tournament that Backus found the place where she would finish her degree.

“UW–Madison really chose me,” says Backus. “The environment, the beauty, the whole sense of purpose — everything that was happening there — and the research and the Wisconsin Idea. It all really spoke to me.”

Inspired by some great math teachers from her youth, Backus earned a math degree. Upon graduating, she began her career as a teacher and became a highly respected educator, both of children and other teachers: she led workshops on teaching math at the middle-school level and was active in the Wisconsin Math Council, eventually serving as its president.

Throughout her career, Backus was part of a community of mathematics educators who helped to put Wisconsin on the map as a model for math education.

Throughout her career, Backus was part of a community of mathematics educators who helped to put Wisconsin on the map as a model for math education.

“For the last 30 years,” says Backus, “Wisconsin math teachers have been at the forefront, modernizing the way they teach. Wisconsin math teachers are constantly learning and changing to keep up with the needs of today’s students.”

Backus believes that the state’s commitment to math is hugely beneficial to today’s students.

“Math is involved in almost every single job,” she explains. “And in the process of learning math, you develop problem-solving skills, methods, and paths that serve you in every area of your life.”

But Backus’s career in math is marked by more than her pedagogical skills and knowledge: her commitment to serve others is just as important.

“I’ve always been motivated to do things that improve lives in some way,” she says.