Meet Your Professor: Dr. James Sellers

A new series where faculty members in UMD's Swenson College of Science & Engineering introduce themselves to provide more insight into their interests, their classes and their lives. This one was written and submitted by Dr. James Sellers.

My name is James Sellers, and I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, where I lived in my childhood home until I moved to Pennsylvania for graduate school.  While earning my BS degree in mathematics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I also worked in the actuary department at USAA; their home offices are in San Antonio.  

Since receiving my PhD in mathematics in 1992 at Penn State, I’ve worked as a mathematics teacher and researcher.  I spent nine years at Cedarville University in Ohio, 18 years back at Penn State, and now I am in my 4th year at UMD.  I am a professor of mathematics at UMD, and I arrived here in 2019 (just months prior to the start of the COVID pandemic!).  In the last two years, I’ve taught Calculus I and Calculus II to a wide variety of students who are in programs in the sciences and engineering at UMD.  I have really enjoyed working with students who have such a diverse set of interests and backgrounds. I love to teach, and that has brought me lots of joy over the last three decades.  Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve taught a significant range of courses, from liberal education mathematics courses for students in non-technical majors, to calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra, to discrete mathematics, combinatorics and number theory.

Why UMD?

Lots of people have asked me, “Why UMD?”  This was especially true when I shared with family and friends that I was leaving Penn State in 2019.  The truth is that there were both professional and personal reasons that guided me to Minnesota.  While at Penn State, I found myself wanting to be at an institution that valued both research and teaching (I found that my teaching interests and abilities weren’t as highly appreciated at Penn State, given their significant focus on research). 

Dr. Sellers and his wife, Sarah, featuring the UMD campus.

I was also interested in serving in a smaller department than the one at Penn State (where there were over 100 faculty and nearly that many graduate students as well).  UMD provided me with such a place, with their balanced view of research and teaching, and smaller campus environment all around. 

On the personal side, Sarah grew up in Cook, MN, on the Iron Range, and then spent several years in Duluth before moving to Pennsylvania in her late 20s.  So she has strong connections to this region, including two sisters (and their families) who live in Duluth and two other sisters who live in the Twin Cities.  So there was a very strong personal motivation to move to MN so that Sarah could return to her roots. 

A Few Other Professional “Highlights”:  

  • I enjoyed a semester abroad as a research fellow at the Isaac Newton Institute at Cambridge University in England.
  • I spent a wonderful semester as a Fulbright researcher and teacher in Linz, Austria.
  • I have given professional talks and presentations in numerous countries, including Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, England, the Netherlands, Norway, and South Africa.
  • I’ve published over 120 articles in professional, peer-reviewed journals, some with colleagues from all over the world, others with my own students.
  • I developed and taught three high-school level mathematics courses for the Teaching Company, now called Wondrium.
  • I served on the AP Calculus Development Committee for seven years - this committee is made up of seven members, including high school teachers and university faculty, who write the AP Calculus exams! 
  • I also served as the Secretary of the Mathematical Association of America, one of the largest professional mathematics organizations with a focus on mathematics education at the post-secondary level.


Some Personal Facts:  

  • I’m the father of five kids, ranging in age from 31 to 23; four are Penn State graduates, and the fifth is in her last year as a Penn State student. 
  • I also have three kids-in-law, two stepkids, and four grandkids (two of the grandkids live in Pennsylvania while the other two live in California). 
  • I spent many years coaching Pop Warner football for my sons and traveling to cheer competitions with my daughters.
  • I’ve slept at least one night in each of the contiguous 48 states. Only Alaska and Hawaii remain on that bucket list!  
  • My wife Sarah and I love to take walks and hikes here in Duluth – it’s a gorgeous place! – and we also like to take the time to occasionally go down to the lift bridge here in Duluth to watch the ships.
  • I love Candy Crush!  (Some would call it an obsession or addiction…)  I’ve passed more than 12,600 levels of the game so far.  
  • I started playing pickleball last year after deciding to put racquetball aside.  I love the sport and try to play it as often as I can.    
  • I am a rabid fan of NCAA wrestling, and I have a particular affinity for the Penn State wrestling program.  (I know, I know, I have already had numerous conversations with University of Iowa wrestling fans…) 
  • I love watching hockey at all levels; in particular, I am a big fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins.  (Yes, again, I know that I am out of place here!)  Of course, UMD is a wonderful place to be as a hockey fan given the recent success of both the men’s and women’s hockey programs!  


Contact Dr. James Sellers: 

156 Solon Campus Center
1117 University Dr.
Duluth, MN 55812
[email protected]
+1 2187267315