Joe Wyatt
Published November 1, 2021

Every mathematical challenge gives Shannon Cornell a reassuring glimpse of something vastly more elegant than the computation at hand.


“I find mathematics to be very therapeutic,” said the assistant professor of mathematics at Amarillo College. “It’s the framework for all of the sciences and for the beauty in art and in music. It’s the foundation for architecture. It’s a universal language that teaches us logic.
“I love mathematics because it is reliable and logical and very beautiful,” she said. “I love sharing that with other people, communicating those concepts to all kinds of students.”
Cornell, a lifelong Amarilloan, graduated from Amarillo High School and set out in pursuit of a teaching degree at West Texas A&M University. However, she was not immediately convinced that math was the way to go.
“I always wanted to teach, but I didn’t always think (math) was easy. Fortunately I had a professor that really encouraged me, who said I had good skills in mathematics and that I should consider a career in it.”
She followed that advice and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at WTAMU. Cornell joined the AC faculty in 2002 and has since taught everything from beginning algebra to differential equations.
Her subject is a degree requirement that tends to dismay those scholars who are not mathematically inclined, and Cornell has had plenty of students who initially lacked enthusiasm. But that’s when her passion for teaching and her ample experience kick in; she boosts their confidence incrementally.
“Many students are intimidated by mathematics because it is very abstract, but I do my best to break down the concepts into bite-sized pieces, to help them master one concept at a time,” Cornell said.
“I love the interaction with students, and I really love the success stories where students are intimidated by mathematics – maybe they’ve had a bad experience – but they come into our classes at Amarillo College and really learn something, not only about mathematics but about themselves. That is just so satisfying.”
Cornell is not only highly motivated to help her students succeed, she is equally committed to the success of her department and the College.
She has served over the years on faculty committees charged with redesigning courses like College Algebra and Calculus I and III. Most recently, she worked with a team that developed AC’s innovative co-requisite model for basic math and algebra, which effectively eliminated the need for age-old, non-credit-bearing developmental courses.
Many students, having been assessed as not yet ready for college-level math, had previously been relegated to a slate of developmental studies for which they received no transferable credit – and which they too often failed to complete. Now, thanks to the math curriculum team’s herculean efforts, such students are simultaneously enrolled in both a transfer-level course and a support course, with built-in mentoring, yielding viable college credit.
“It was a long journey getting there, and I had the honor of being on a team of really wonderful colleagues who were innovative and creative in the way that we had to approach this new model,” Cornell said. “What we ended up with is something that’s been quite successful, and we’ve already seen a lot of students complete their math credit in a very short amount of time.”
If it sounds as though Cornell toils at the College around the clock, just listen more closely and you’ll hear her voice elsewhere throughout the community, teaching still, albeit with a focus on another subject. She regularly teaches Sunday School classes at Hillside Christian Church, and she occasionally guest teaches at First Presbyterian Church.
Additionally, she has spent innumerable hours in years past volunteering on behalf of Sharing Hope Ministry, leading Bible studies for incarcerated women at the Randall County Jail, and for women at Patsy’s Place transitioning from jail.
“Teaching is my profession, but it’s also my passion outside of school,” Cornell said. “I loved bringing scripture to those women and encouraging them. Now, especially during these times, when we’re all struggling with things going on in the world, we all need hope. I love sharing my hope with people in our community.”
The mother of “three wonderful children” – she’s been married 22 years – Cornell says Amarillo College provides yet another source of communal optimism.
“I think Amarillo is proud and appreciative of our College because we provide so much for the workforce,” she said. “I think about not only the students we are transferring to four-year universities, but also about the students who are obtaining certificates and go directly into the workforce. It’s a game-changer for our community, for sure.”