When Penn students take their spot in the student section before a basketball game at the Palestra, they often face a sea of fans lining the famed Cathedral of College Basketball. There’s one fan, however, that may be more familiar to students than others.
Professor Nakia Rimmer is the associate director of undergraduate mathematics and a senior lecturer at Penn, where he teaches a variety of classes. Among those courses are MATH 103 and MATH 104, required classes for a majority of Penn students. Since he came to Penn in 2006, Rimmer has developed a strong reputation within the Penn community.
Rimmer is among the Math Department’s most beloved professors, and also runs a successful online math instruction platform, CalcCoach.com. Yet, one of his largest claims to fame has nothing to do with differential equations or taking derivatives. Outside the classroom, Rimmer is one of Penn men’s basketball’s biggest fans and supporters.
Understanding how Rimmer came to be a Quakers superfan requires traveling to a time where he played the part of student — not professor.
“For me, it started when I was in grad school at Penn in the late ‘90s,” Rimmer said. “Back then, the battles between [Penn and Princeton] were epic, and that fueled it for me. Being a grad student in the stands [and] seeing that place packed is just something that always stuck with me, I loved it.”
The era Rimmer cited was one of the best in the Quakers’ history. Penn and Princeton dominated the Ivy hardwood, and Penn had two of its program’s best players: Michael Jordan and Ugonna Onyekwe. Though he’s no longer in the student section cheering on a seemingly unbeatable Quakers team, Rimmer still has made a place for Penn basketball in his life.
“[Now] it’s something to do with my kids — a family outing,” Rimmer said. “Before they were even four or five years old, my kids had been on every Ivy League campus [because of] basketball.”
Though his natural fandom plays a large part in his continued support of Penn’s athletic programs, Rimmer’s position as a faculty member has introduced a new motivation for showing up to cheer on the Red and Blue.
“[Being a fan] goes across all sports; I love having them in class,” Rimmer said. “I just admire them: volunteering student-athletes. They play for the love of the sport, and it’s tough in the Ivy League being a student-athlete.”
Rimmer’s appreciation of the discipline and sacrifice demonstrated by Penn’s student-athletes has led him to find ways to help make the “student” part of the equation easier.
“I extend myself to them [and] make myself available to them on their schedule,” Rimmer said. “I offer office hours at times that are convenient to them, and I’ll pop in a study hall to say, ‘shoot some questions my way, I’m here,’ and that goes for all sports.”
Rimmer’s constant presence on the sidelines, as well as his willingness to accommodate the needs of student-athletes at a moment’s notice, has contributed to his revered reputation on campus.
It’s clear when talking to Rimmer that his passion for Penn runs deep, with a rich history beginning when he was just a graduate student over 20 years ago. It was almost a requirement to ask Rimmer what moments have stuck out in his more than two decades as a fan of the team.
Though he’s watched countless teams, matchups, and players take the floor at the Palestra, Rimmer’s answer came without hesitation.
“It had to be beating Villanova most recently,” Rimmer said. “Storming the court with my students … I broke my glasses. I mean we hadn’t beaten them in so long. It was blowout after blowout for so many years, [and] they were defending national champions, so it was perfect.”
The night of Penn’s upset over Villanova could have been enough to top Rimmer’s list by itself. However, when you’re a fan as dedicated as he is, there’s always more to the story.
“[Beating Villanova] took us on the ride to going to the [NCAA] Tournament, and winning the Ivy,” Rimmer said. “I was able to go to Wichita for the first round when we played Kansas. It was just an amazing ride, 2018, that has to be number one on my list.”
Like so many other things in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rimmer’s frequent trips to the Palestra are on pause following the Ivy League’s cancellation of winter sports. However, when the Quakers take the court next, Rimmer will be with the rest of the Penn faithful lining the seats of the Palestra.
“I miss it, and I can’t wait for next year,” Rimmer said. “[Excited] to get reloaded and see the guys back on the court.”
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