Professor Spotlight: George Schnibben


Photo by: Julia Fulmer

George Schnibben restored his legacy at FMU after facing adversity as a student.

George Schnibben, an FMU mathematics professor of 37 years, said his interest in math arose in his early 20s after a rough patch in his academic career.

Born and raised in Florence, S.C., Schnibben received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from FMU (at the time known as Francis Marion College), later acquiring his master’s and a doctorate in mathematical sciences from Clemson University.

Though Schnibben is highly recognized for his proficiency in mathematics and teaching, the road he traveled to become a professor was anything but a straight path.

“I failed algebra 2 in high school, and my teacher told my mother I would never do well at math,” Schnibben said. “I wish I had learned the importance of being able to study more then.”

Schnibben pointed to the wall of his office where a framed letter of dismissal from Francis Marion College hung. He said he originally attended FMU as a business administration student, hoping that what he learned would help him manage his family’s movie theaters when he graduated. However, as he became disinterested, his grades suffered, resulting in a dismissal letter on his doorstep one morning.

After leaving FMU, Schnibben began reading about mathematics in his free time, and he became increasingly interested in the subject.

“After I had been kicked out, I just started reading, and it came up to stuff that was math-oriented,” Schnibben said. “I thought, ‘This is rather interesting. I kind of like this.’ I wanted to know more, and I knew the only way to do that would be to go to an institution. So I thought, ‘Why not go to Francis Marion?’”

Sure enough, above the letter of dismissal on the wall hangs his diploma from FMU, as well as the mathematics department award for 1979.

Since he began teaching at FMU, Schnibben adopted a more relaxed teaching style and classroom setting. He said that keeping the mood light by making jokes helps students feel more at ease and encourages class discussion. Schnibben attributes much of his teaching style to Roger “Bucky” Allen, a professor of mathematics at FMU. 

“I always enjoyed taking his classes,” Schnibben said. “If there was anybody I tried to emulate, it was him. He would come into class, and he would say whatever he wanted to. He was funny, and class was always fun. I always looked forward to it.”

Schnibben said Jack Smith, the chair of the mathematics department, also played a role in securing him a place on the FMU faculty. While pursuing his Ph.D., Schnibben said he received a call from Smith offering him a place in the math department.

“[Smith] said, ‘I’ve got a friend; I’m going to let him work here for a semester,” Schnibben said. “We’ll hold a spot for you if you get your Ph.D. I defended it and got it on Friday, then started working on Monday.”

Schnibben said Smith, along with Joel Brawley, his faculty advisor from Clemson University, both played impactful roles in his life as a student. Though it was not always an easy road, Schnibben said he is thankful for his opportunity to work at FMU.

“I guess you could say I wished I hadn’t failed out,” Schnibben said. “But, as a matter of fact, it taught me a lesson. Know that you’re going to have to work. That’s true of every major here on campus. You have to work. Open the book and look at it yourself. Rely on yourself. Don’t rely on somebody, your friend or your teacher, to do something for you.”