View from the Chair 2022

Portrait of Petronela Radu

Dr. Petronela Radu, chair of Mathematics

Dear alumni and friends,

This summer I had the honor to start serving as the 16th chair in the history of the Department of Mathematics. I see this new role as an opportunity to give back to a wonderful department that has provided both a home and a solution to a “two-body problem.”

My husband, Mikil Foss, and I are fortunate to be one of the many (over a dozen!) couples hired by the department, which has always recognized that many mathematicians love doing homework and discussing mathematics together, a concept that often leads to long-term partnerships. If you met your life partner in our graduate program and would like to share your story with me, or in a future newsletter, I invite you to email me at

The culture of our department encourages diversity (of which I can attest as an immigrant woman), supports faculty with young families, and promotes inclusiveness. Research efforts to recruit and retain a more diverse student body to STEM fields have been recognized by external funding—see Research Professor Wendy Smith’s PRISMATIC conference grant and learn more about her successes on page 8.

This year we saw the retirements of faculty members Steve Cohn, Mohammad Rammaha, and Nathan Wakefield, who are up to new endeavors and enjoying their retirements (see pages 16 and 17). Staff member Tom Danaher accepted a new position on campus this fall, and Marilyn Johnson is preparing for her retirement in the spring. We are grateful to all of them for their many years of service, which have impacted students and faculty, and in the end, the larger community of Nebraska.

I want to recognize the honors earned by our staff this year. Tom Danaher, Rachelle Jensen, and Marilyn Johnson were all nominated for and awarded Applause Awards by the College of Arts and Sciences. The Applause program recognizes consistently outstanding performance and service.

The efforts and passion of our faculty transpire from the stories of many of our current students and alumni; you can see in our newsletter the rich paths these students and graduates have taken and the inspiring careers that they have built after earning undergraduate or graduate degrees from our department. Where are they now? NASA, Berkshire Hathaway, a fellow to the legislative branch in DC, integral to the founding of companies like Ocuvera and SumerSports, just to name a few.

I am excited to announce a new major for students who will join us in Fall 2023. A degree in Data Science was designed in collaboration with the School of Computing and the Department of Statistics. Learn about the huge potential of this new field on page 11, and spread the word to your community. Also, there are many ways to give back to the department; one of them is by making a donation to the Emeritus Faculty Fellowship Fund, which was started by Jim Lewis and has been instrumental in supporting many fellowships and awards for outstanding graduate students.

Let me end by expressing my gratitude to Tom Marley, who tirelessly led the department for six years, sailing through a pandemic, budget cuts, and other difficulties, while also gathering quite a few remarkable successes. Tom and the department’s leadership and staff have been extremely generous with their time, in preparing me for this position. It proves one more time the wonderful community spirit that has inhabited our department and which is part of the good life of Nebraska.

- Petronela Radu