Message from the Chair

June 17, 2021

Mathematics may not teach us to how to add love and subtract hate, but it gives us hope that every problem has a solution. And the last year, or so, has been a trying time, during which we had to face difficult issues and find solutions to a myriad of complex real-world problems while navigating in uncharted waters, with the winds of COVID blowing all around us. This has tested the resolve and resilience of our students, faculty, and staff, forcing all to dig deep and re-evaluate their purpose and commitment to Baylor's values and mission.

The complications created by the COVID19 pandemic have made 2020-2021 a particularly difficult academic year in higher education as a whole, nationwide. All aspects of the academic life have been affected. Substantial and lasting changes to teaching and research had to be implemented. Our faculty have pivoted to online teaching and have worked extremely hard to adjust to the new reality. They have immersed themselves in the use of technology to ensure a robust offering of mathematics courses in various delivery formats: online, hybrid, and in-person. At the same time, faculty continued to work on their research programs, and on disseminating their findings through new virtual formats.

We are emerging from this challenging period stronger than ever and are excited to welcome a record number of freshmen on campus this Fall. As we move forward, we are wiser, more seasoned, and more attuned with the needs and sensitivities of our students, by incorporating what we have learned this last year and weave into the fabric of the current reality.

Looking back and contemplating on the time elapsed, it's just fitting that we first remember those no longer with us. Dr. David M. Arnold, former Ralph and Jean Storm Chair of Mathematics and a distinguished emeritus professor at Baylor, passed away peacefully at his home on January 3. He was 81 years old. A beautiful tribute to the life and legacy of Dr. Arnold, written by Dr. Littlejohn, may be found here.

Memories take us back, dreams take us forward. One of the most rewarding aspects of my job as chair of the mathematics department is spotlighting the many successes and distinguished accomplishments of our talented students and our dedicated faculty. These highlights include:

Alexandra Pasi, working under the mentorship of Dr. Daniel Herden, won the Outstanding Dissertation Award in STEM for 2020-2021 from the Graduate School. Also, Blake Allan, working under the mentorship of Dr. Fritz Gesztesy, won the 2020 F. Ray Wilson Award for Best Thesis in the Physical and Life Sciences. Well done, Alexandra and Blake! More info on these awards may be found here.

Moreover, five of our graduate students have just completed their Ph.D. degrees:

  • Tavish Dunn, Adviser: Dr. David Ryden
  • Ian Grigsby, Adviser: Dr. Jonathan Meddaugh
  • Alexandra Pasi, Adviser: Dr. Daniel Herden
  • Taylor Poe, Advisers: Dr. Andrei Martinez-Finkelshtein and Dr. Brian Simanek
  • Jack Rebrovich, Advisers: Dr. Daniel Herden and Dr. Manfred Dugas

To learn about their time at Baylor and their future plans use this link.

A Baylor degree is a high honor, a badge of recognition and distinction. In this vein, here is a link to a fascinating story featuring one of our 2015 graduates, Thomas Gibson.

Last year brought a host of new Collaboration grants in the department, awarded by the Simons  Foundation to Dr. Jeonghun Lee, Dr. Andrei Martinez-Finkelshtein, Dr. Brian Simanek, and Dr. Tao Mei.

In addition, Dr. Jeonghun Lee has recently been awarded an NSF grant, on the Development of Reduced Order Models for Poroelasticity and Related Problems. I am also happy to announce that an NSF CAREER Award, a first in the Mathematics Department at Baylor, has been recently awarded to Dr. Jameson Graber (a link to more details about Jameson himself and this highly competitive award may be found here). Congratulations to all!

Congratulations are also in order for Dr. Brian Simanek, who has been awarded tenure (starting August 2021), a real milestone in his academic career.

Dr. Marius Mitrea has been named as one of the 2021 Fellows of the American Mathematical Society. The Fellow of AMS program recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to math, and Marius becomes the third faculty member in the department to receive such a distinction, alongside Dr. Henderson and Dr. Gesztesy (a link further detailing on this may be found here).

I am also happy to announce that Dr. Fritz Gesztesy, the current Ralph and Jean Storm Chair of Mathematics in our department, has received an Honorary Doctorate (Dr.h.c.) from the Technical University of Graz, Austria (August 14, 2020).

Mathematicians have a well-documented fascination with numbers. Speaking of which, Dr. Johnny Henderson, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, has turned 70: Happy Birthday Johnny! A link to an article elaborating on Dr. Henderson's esteemed career, both in research and teaching, written by Dr. John Davis (himself a former Ph. D. student of Dr. Henderson), is included here.

Throughout, the support of our donors and alumni has played a crucial role in maintaining the competitiveness, competency, and vibrancy of our department and the many programs and educational activities this offers. For all that you have done, we thank you, with a grateful heart. Your generosity does make a real impact. This sentiment is echoed by all, including our scholarship recipients – here is a story I would like to share with you, from Brooke Bonadies, one of our graduating seniors.

As with similar occasions in the past, I'll leave you with some of my favorite quotes, which I feel speak in complete unison, even though such thoughts have been articulated by people separated by language, geography, and time:

Mathematics has beauty and romance. It's not a boring place to be, the mathematical world. It's an extraordinary place; it's worth spending time there.
— Marcus du Sautoy, contemporary British mathematician
Many who have had an opportunity of knowing any more about mathematics confuse it with arithmetic, and consider it an arid science. In reality, however, it is a science which requires a great amount of imagination.
— Sofia Kovalevskaya, Russian mathematician (1850-1891)