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Pólya Lectureship

George Pólya embodied the high quality of exposition which the Mathematical Association of America seeks to encourage. To further this goal, the Board of Governors of the Association established the George Pólya Lectureship. This Lectureship will be held by an individual representing the high expository standards set by George Pólya. A new Pólya Lecturer will be appointed every year, with a term of two academic years. The first year of the term overlaps the term of the previous Pólya Lecturer and the second year overlaps the term of the next Pólya Lecturer.

Each Section is eligible to have a Pólya Lecturer speak at one of its meetings once every five academic years on a rotating basis, with all travel expenses borne by the Association. Thus, if a Section is eligible during the 2016-2017 academic year, for example, they must host the Lecturer during either the Fall 2016 or Spring 2017.

Each year, the Pólya lecturers will be notified as to which sections are eligible for a visit during that year. Sections should contact the lecturer directly to coordinate a visit.

Section Eligibility for the Pólya Lectureship:




Nebraska/SE South Dakota


Allegheny Mountain
New Jersey


Metro New York
North Central
Pacific Northwest



Rocky Mountain




It is customary for the section to waive any registration, banquet and social fees for the lecturer. The Pólya Lecturer will pay his/her own travel expenses and will be reimbursed by the Association. Should, by accident, a section invite two Pólya speakers, it will be asked to reimburse the Association for the more expensive trip.

Each section is asked to be a thoughtful host. In the crush of meeting details and the distribution of duties amongst section officers and local arrangements faculty, it is sometimes easy for responsibilities to fall through the cracks. Please be sure to consider your visitors' arrangements for travel, lodging, meals, local transportation and registration. In the days of "Saturday night stay overs", it is especially cordial that the section considers Saturday evening dining arrangements. At least give visiting speakers options ("a ride would be great" or "I'll catch a cab") for airport pickups, get-togethers at meals, etc. Be sure to communicate fully about the schedule of events at your meeting.

2015 - 2016 Pólya Lecturers

Erica Flapan is the Lingurn H. Burkhead Professor of Mathematics at Pomona College. She is the author of "When Topology Meets Chemistry: A Topological Approach to Chemistry" (2000), which was the one of the first books to discuss these exciting applications of mathematics to molecular structures. She is also the co-author of "Number Theory: A Lively Introduction with Proofs, Applications and Stories" (2011) which makes number theory accessible and applicable. Her research includes a variety of topics that have direct applications to the topology and symmetry of molecules, including DNA. She is also interested in questions related to the application of knot theory to graphs in 3-space. She is an AMS fellow, and currently has an NSF research grant. Known for her ability to give excellent talks at a variety of levels, she received the MAA Haimo Teaching Award in 2011.

William Dunham is a Truman Koehler Professor of Mathematics at Muhlenberg Colleg.  Find his bio below.

2014 - 2015 Pólya Lecturers

William Dunham has been the Truman Koehler Professor of Mathematics at Muhlenberg College since 1992. His books Journey Through Genius: The Great Theorems of Mathematics (Wiley, 1990) and The Mathematical Universe (Wiley, 1994) were alternate selections for Book-of-the-Month Club, and the latter received the Association of American Publishers Award as the Best Mathematics Book of 1994. His next two books, Euler: The Master of Us All (MAA, 1999) and The Calculus Gallery: Masterpieces from Newton to Lebesgue (Princeton, 2005), were designated among their year’s Outstanding Academic Titles by Choice magazine of the American Library Association, and the Euler book received the MAA’s Beckenbach Prize in 2008. Dunham has also edited a volume, The Genius of Euler: Selections from his Life and Work (MAA, 2007), in conjunction with the 300th anniversary of Euler’s birth. He is presently working with Jerry Alexanderson in editing a collection of writings from G. H. Hardy. 

Dunham’s interest in the history of mathematics has translated into numerous talks at colleges and universities around the country and has carried him to speaking engagements at the Smithsonian Institution, on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation: Science Friday,” and at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, DC. In the fall of 2008 and again the spring of 2013, he was a visiting professor at Harvard University, where he taught an undergraduate course on the mathematics of Leonhard Euler (course title: “Much Ado About Everything”). After he steps down from his Muhlenberg position in December of 2013, Dunham has been invited to be a visitor at Princeton University (spring, 2014) and then at the University of Pennsylvania (fall, 2014), and he hopes to continue as an itinerant math historian into the foreseeable future.

Ruth Charney is a Professor of Mathematics at Brandeis University.  Find her bio below.

2013- 2014 Pólya Lecturers

Ruth Charney is a Professor of Mathematics at Brandeis University. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Brandeis and her Ph.D. from Princeton, she held positions at the University of California, Berkeley, Yale, and Ohio State University before returning to Brandeis in 2003. Charney is President-Elect of the Association for Women in Mathematics and serves as a Trustee for the American Mathematical Society. She was a plenary speaker at the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics in 2007 and a Mathematical Association of America Distinguished Lecturer in 2008. Charney claims she was never sure whether she was a topologist or an algebraist, and is now happily immersed in geometric group theory, a combination of the two.

Ravi Vakil is a Professor of Mathematics at Stanford. Find his bio below.

2012 - 2013 Pólya Lecturers

Ravi Vakil is a Professor of Mathematics at Stanford, where he is also the Robert K. Packard University Fellow and the David Huntington Faculty Scholar. He is an algebraic geometer, and his work touches on many other parts of mathematics, including topology, string theory, applied mathematics, combinatorics, number theory, and more. He was born in Toronto, Canada, and studied at the University of Toronto, where he was a four-time winner of the Putnam competition ("Putnam Fellow"). He received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1997, and taught at Princeton and MIT before moving to Stanford in 2001. He has received the Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching, the American Mathematical Society Centennial Fellowship, the Frederick E. Terman fellowship, an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship, the National Science Foundation CAREER grant, and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He has also received the Coxeter-James Prize from the Canadian Mathematical Society, and the André-Aisenstadt Prize from the Centre de Recherches Mathématiques (CRM) in Montréal, and was the 2009 Earle Raymond Hedrick Lecturer at MathFest. He also served as an informal advisor to the new website mathoverflow. He works extensively with talented younger mathematicians at all levels, from high school (through math circles, camps, and olympiads) to recent Ph.D.'s.

Jeff Lagarias, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Michigan. Find his bio below.

2011 - 2012 Pólya Lecturers

Jeff Lagarias, is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Michigan. His research interests include number theory, discrete and computational geometry, cryptography, dynamical systems, optimization and more. He was a Putnam exam winner at MIT in 1970, and received his PhD from MIT in 1974 in analytic number theory. He then worked at Bell Laboratories and its descendants on a wide variety of pure and applied mathematical topics. At various times he held visiting positions in mathematics, computer science and physics. In 2004 he moved to the University of Michigan. He has received a Lester R. Ford prize twice, and was the 2005 Raymond Hedrick Lecturer at MathFest. He recently edited a book on the 3x+1 problem (“The Ultimate Challenge") and another on the Hales-Ferguson solution of the Kepler Conjecture on sphere packing.

Erik Demaine is Associate Professor in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research interests range throughout algorithms, from data structures for improving web searches to the geometry of understanding how proteins fold to the computational difficulty of playing games. He received a MacArthur Fellowship (2003) as a “computational geometer tackling and solving difficult problems related to folding and bending – moving readily between the theoretical and the playful, with a keen eye to revealing the former in the latter.” He appears in the recent origami documentary Between the Folds (2008). Erik cowrote a book about the theory of folding, together with Joseph O'Rourke, called Geometric Folding Algorithms: Linkages, Origami, Polyhedra (Cambridge University Press, 2007), and a book about the computational complexity of games, together with Robert Hearn, called Games, Puzzles, and Computation (A K Peters, 2009). His interests span the connections between mathematics and art, particularly sculpture and performance, including curved origami sculptures in the permanent collection of Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York.

2010 - 2011 Pólya Lecturers

Erik Demaine, Associate Professor in Computer Science at MIT.

Judy Walker, Professor and Graduate Chair at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

View the list of past Pólya Lecturers

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