View from the Chair 2020

Dr. Tom Marley

Dear alumni and friends,

As we look back on the past year, it has become a popular sentiment—and a fashionable slogan on T-shirts—to wish 2020 “good riddance.” Of course, there are many good reasons behind that feeling: the year brought us a global pandemic, widespread unemployment, and a contentious election. On campus, we have heard the words budget cuts, layoffs, and hiring freezes far too often. Closer to home, the department was met with the sad news of the passing of professor emeritus Mel Thornton and 2013 Ph.D. alumnus Ben Nolting. However, while it is important to recognize this year has brought setbacks and unprecedented (another word we have heard too many times!) challenges, it is equally important to reflect on how we have met those challenges.

At the department level, I believe there is much for which we should be proud. In these pages, you’ll read stories highlighting the innovative efforts by faculty and graduate students to meet the challenge of online and hybrid instruction head-on, including creative approaches for maintaining active learning in Zoom classrooms, the development of novel online assessment tools, and adapting our Math Resource Center to an effective online help center for students. We managed to continue our outreach efforts, including successfully hosting an online All Girls/All Math summer camp and a virtual Math Day.

This year also brought good news. We hired two outstanding tenure-track faculty, Eloísa Grifo and Jack Jeffries, and two postdocs, Amy Been Bennett and Animesh Biswas—all fortunately hired before the pandemic hit. We also saw four faculty honored with named professorships, two faculty receive distinguished teaching awards, and many faculty being awarded external grants. Among the many accomplishments by our graduate students this year, Collin Victor was awarded a highly competitive NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

Looking ahead to 2021, the department expects to award its 100th Ph.D. to a woman in its history, which is an especially important milestone. We have worked diligently over the past 30 years to make our graduate program equally supportive for students of all genders and been nationally recognized for our efforts. In recognition of this milestone, the department is planning a major celebration post-pandemic for all friends and alumni of the department, and we hope many of you will be able to attend.

Finally, a word about giving. Many donors prefer to give to our general mathematics fund, allowing the department maximum flexibility in how their donations are utilized. Some prefer to support specific aspects of our mission, such as research, teaching, or our outreach programs; others prefer to establish their own funds targeted toward a particular purpose. Four examples of such funds are given on the back of this newsletter. I’d like to discuss in detail a fund that is near and dear to many of our graduate alumni: the Emeritus Faculty Fellowship Fund. This fund was established in 1989 through regular donations from the mathematics faculty under the leadership of then-chair Jim Lewis. The purpose of this fund is to support our graduate program, primarily through the awarding of graduate fellowships. Since the establishment of this fund, 128 graduate students have received an Emeritus Faculty Fellowship. An option for donors is to make their donations in tribute to particular emeritus faculty members. When donations in honor of a particular emeritus reach $20,000, we then award a permanent annual fellowship to honor this faculty member. Currently, we have emeritus fellowships named in honor Lloyd Jackson and Bill Leavitt. We hope to see that list grow.

I would like to once again thank Lindsay Augustyn for her tremendous work in putting together this newsletter. I would also like to say how thankful I am to all members of our community (current and former students, faculty, and staff) for making this department such a wonderful place to work and learn. Best wishes for the holidays and new year.

- Tom Marley