View from the Chair 2021: Tom Marley

Tom Marley, Professor and Chair, Department of Mathematics

Dear alumni and friends,

It has been another eventful year in the Department of Mathematics, filled with wonderful achievements by our student, faculty, and alumni. The front page of this newsletter features two of the biggest milestones: Three women shared the honor of being the 100th woman to earn a Ph.D. from our department, and Professor Jim Lewis celebrated 50 years of service to the university.

The two stories have a deep connection. When Jim became chair of the department in 1988, the department had awarded a total of six Ph.Ds. to women in its history, and none in the previous decade. It was clear that there were structural impediments, some obvious and others less so, that were making it difficult for women to succeed in our graduate program. As chair, Jim initiated a series of changes designed to make our graduate program a more supportive place for women, and by extension all students. When he stepped down as chair in 2003, an additional 27 women had earned Ph.Ds. and the department had won a Presidential Award for Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring — from the U.S. President, not the university president! — for its success in mentoring women to the Ph.D. degree. Of course, Jim would be the first to say this was the result of a department-wide effort, and still is. But, it is indeed fitting the two celebrations, the 100th woman Ph.D. and Jim’s 50 years of service, coincided this year.

As you browse this newsletter, you will learn about prestigious awards won by faculty and students as well as department initiatives to make college more affordable and enhance diversity. You will see profiles of alumni, students, and faculty, and read about new donor-funded programs, such as the Ernie Haight Graduate Internship, and exciting new grant-funded programs. You can also sing along with Juliana Bukoski on “A Long Song to Mathematics.” On a bittersweet note (bitter for us, sweet for them), the department saw the retirement of two long-serving and outstanding lecturers, Bill Rogge and Bob Ruyle. We also received the sad news of the passing of two retired faculty members, Dave Skoug and Skip Thomas. Dave was a longtime member of the faculty and served as chair from 1975 to 1983. Skip taught for the department from 1998 until 2008 after teaching for more than 30 years at Lincoln Northeast High School. They both will be dearly missed.

Finally, one more bittersweet note: After serving as six years as department chair, I will be stepping down and returning to our “regular faculty” at the end of this academic year. While arriving at this decision was not easy, I am excited to return the majority of my focus to teaching and research for a spell. It has been both a pleasure and an honor to serve the department in this way and to get to know the larger community of friends we have outside the walls of Avery Hall. One of the highlights each year has been to write this column, letting our community know about all the great things happening in the department — and that I will sorely miss. I wish all of you happy holidays and best wishes for the New Year!