The Mathematical Association of America has selected John Ewing as the winner of the 2012 Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics.
The Gung and Hu Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics, first presented in 1990, is the endowed successor to the Association’s Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics, first presented in 1962. This award is intended to be the most prestigious award for service offered by the Association. It honors distinguished contributions to mathematics and mathematical education—in one particular aspect or many, and in a short period or over a career. The initial endowment was contributed by husband and wife, Dr. Charles Y. Hu and Yueh-Gin Gung. It is worth noting that Dr. Hu and Yueh-Gin Gung were not mathematicians, but rather a professor of geography at the University of Maryland and a librarian at the University of Chicago, respectively. They contributed generously to our discipline, writing, "We always have high regard and great respect for the intellectual agility and high quality of mind of mathematicians and consider mathematics as the most vital field of study in the technological age we are living in." Read more about the award.
John Ewing received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Brown University in 1971 and, after a two-year post-doctoral appointment at Dartmouth, he joined the mathematics department faculty at Indiana University. John quickly became known on campus not only as a very good teacher and researcher, but also as a team player and leader who worked to improve the department, the campus, and the field of mathematics. At Indiana, John began his administrative career as director of Undergraduate Studies (1978-1980) and later served as chair of the Mathematics Department (1986-1989 and 1992-1995). During this period, while John served as the editor of the Monthly and the editor of Graduate Texts at Springer-Verlag, he played a key role in the expansion of the department, the renovation of two department buildings, and the strengthening of the department in both teaching and research. Also, while at Indiana, he published approximately 35 research papers in algebraic topology and related areas, supervised three Ph.D. students, and held visiting positions at the University of Virginia, Newcastle University, and the University of Göttingen.
Outside of Indiana University, John first turned his considerable administrative skills to publication. In addition to work on editorial boards too numerous to list, John served as editor of the American Mathematical Monthly (1992-1996) and of the Mathematical Intelligencer (1980-1986). While he was editor, these journals were distinguished by articles containing engaging, accessible, and important mathematics. In 1994, John edited the MAA publication, A Century of Mathematics Through the Eyes of the Monthly. Underwood Dudley’s review in the Intelligencer captures John’s editorial style: "This is a rich and fascinating book. It has everything, and everything that it has is delightful, curious, enlightening, engrossing, interesting, informative, funny, stirring, poignant, or some combination of the preceding."
Between 1995 and 2009, John served as Executive Director of the American Mathematical Society. His decisions within the AMS were always guided by a commitment to serve not only the specific interests of the AMS, but also those of the broader mathematical sciences community. John is very much a "big tent" mathematician, always maintaining strong and cordial working relationships with his professional society colleagues, especially at the MAA and SIAM. New joint projects of the time that benefited from the mutual cooperation of the mathematics organizations included public awareness activities and government outreach.
As an example of John’s big tent vision, in Science in 1997, John called attention to the importance of Project NExT: "By bringing young mathematicians to meetings several years in a row, you show them the value of contacts. Most young mathematicians learn that slowly, over many years, or never learn it at all. Project NExT fellows have it handed to them for free." In 2001 the AMS began funding six Project NExT Fellows per year.
In 1999, an AMS task force produced the influential and no-holds-barred Towards Excellence: Leading a Mathematics Department in the 21st Century, which was edited by John and is available at no cost on the Internet. This volume quotes deans who report that mathematics departments tend to be too insular and it emphasizes the importance of mathematics departments building good relationships with other departments across campus. The MAA’s Guidelines for Programs and Departments in Undergraduate Mathematical Sciences calls Towards Excellence "an excellent reference for a planning and evaluation process" and David Bressoud, Past President of the MAA, calls it "one of the most useful resources for making the case for greatersupport for curricular and instructional improvement." In 2002, John presented the ideas in Towards Excellence at an MAA PREP workshop, Leading the Academic Department: A Workshop for Chairs of Mathematical Science Departments.
John is a recognized expert in scholarly publishing and has been a strong, articulate, balanced, and visible voice about the role of professional society publishers in working for the long-term survivability of peer review journals as an essential tool for research and scholarship. He spoke eloquently, effectively, and sensibly at national and international venues on the issues that surround scholarly publishing, especially non-profit publishers, and wrote an important series of commentaries on the state of publishing in the mathematical sciences.
While he has not been an advocate of totally free access, which he finds unsustainable, John has worked tirelessly to improve access to the mathematical literature. He has been committed to low-cost, high quality electronic publishing, with author-friendly copyright policies, and to databases that make an exhaustive literature search possible. The Digital Mathematics Registry, which went online in 2006, is a complete list of digitized publications in the mathematical sciences. The AMS maintains this registry as a public service, which is, itself, in the public domain.
Mathematical Reviews, online through MathSciNet since 1996, is one of the indispensable tools of the working mathematician. John’s contributions to the growth and enhancement of Mathematical Reviews were substantial. With the advice of the senior MR staff and oversight committees, he worked first and foremost setting the agenda for improvements to the database. He is a detailed-oriented person and so his role was rather direct. He is very knowledgeable on the role of technology in building and serving information. He instituted a pricing scheme with the result that the number of institutions that could subscribe to MR doubled in a decade. He arranged for all reviews back to the first issue in 1940 to be digitized. There is no doubt that John was key to moving the project forward to produce the MR tools and database that we have today. John chaired the Joint IMU/ICIAM/IMS Committee on Quantitative Assessment of Research Citation Statistics. Their report, a critical analysis of the use and misuse of citation statistics in science, was published as the lead article in Statistical Science in 2009. The report was featured in the Wall Street Journal and on MathDL.
In 2009, John became president of Math for America. The mission of the non-profit Math for America is "to improve mathematics education in US public secondary schools by recruiting, training and retaining outstanding mathematics teachers." When he became president, John said, "After 3 years, roughly 40% of the teachers of mathematics [in U.S. schools] are gone. You can't sustain a profession if you have that kind of attrition. What Math for America does is concentrate on that one part of the problem. At the moment, it's bringing through something like 40 to 50 new teachers a year. Our hope is to double that number in the next couple of years" (Science, January 2009). Since John became president, Math for America has enlarged to about 420 participants, expanded to new cities, and developed new programs, including one for science teachers. Recently, John has again served on several MAA committees, including the Pólya Lecturer Committee and as chair of the 2010 search committee for the editor of the Monthly.
John has received the following awards: the Lester R. Ford Award, 1975; SERC, Great Britain, Research Fellowship, 1981; SFB fellowship, Federal Republic of Germany (Göttingen), 1984; the first MAA George Pólya Lecturer, 1991-92 and 1992-93; Honorary Doctorate of Science, St. Lawrence University, 1995; the George Pólya Award, 1996; Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2005.
Throughout his career, John has been an effective and firm, but gentle, leader. As Jonathan Borwein, a former MAA Governor, wrote about serving with John on the Committee on Electronic Information and Communication (CEIC) of the International Mathematical Union, "John is an enormously hard-working man—this is not a secret—who wears his remarkable erudition and breadth of knowledge very lightly. He is patient, hard to ruffle, and even harder to alienate. The CEIC was formed with many passionate members; all knowledgeable about some bits of the puzzle. It had only one expert: John Ewing. John’s patience and generosity in educating the rest of us about the many pitfalls and subtleties was extraordinary. His care in trying to distinguish his role as committee member from that as AMS Executive Director (which could have made him the eight-hundred pound gorilla on the committee) was remarkable."