James Ashley Donaldson
- Ethnicity: African American
- Gender: M
- Year of Birth: 1941
- Place of Birth: Madison County, Florida
Dept. of Mathematics
Washington, DC 20059
( 202) 806-7727 voice
(202) 806-6831 fax
PhD Institution: University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign, 1965.
Dissertation Title: Integral Representations of the Extended
Airy Integral Type for the Modified Bessel Function
Advisor: Ray G. Langebartel
MS Institution: University of Illinois, 1963
AB Institution: Lincoln University, 1961
James Ashley Donaldson was born on a farm in Madison County, Florida, in
1941. His parents, Audrey Brown and Oliver Donaldson, had three daughters
and eight sons. His uncle, Enoch Donaldson, a largely self-taught man, taught
little James how to read, write, and calculate long before he entered elementary
school. The first eight grades of his Education were provided in a two-room
rural school house--grades one through four taught in one room by Ms. Lennie
L. Collins and grades five through eight taught in the other room by Mrs.
Alma Jean McKinney. Along with his Uncle Enoch, these two teachers and
later his high school mathematics teacher, Mrs. Juanita Miller, were great
influences on his early life.
When the Supreme Court decision striking down segregated public schools
was issued in 1954, Donaldson was in the tenth grade. His questions concerning
the continuation of the dual segregated Educational system after this landmark
decision caused some concern for his safety and his Education. It was Mrs.
Miller who encouraged Donaldson to go north for his college Education.
As a result of Miller's recommendation and assistance, Donaldson entered
Lincoln University near Oxford, Pennsylvania in 1957.
Initially, Donaldson was unsure of the course of study he would pursue
in college. His interest in studying biology ended quickly after being
presented a pickled frog and being told by the biology instructor that
each successful student would be expected to dissect this unfortunate frog
and learn each of its muscles and bones. Interest in pursuing studies leading
to an engineering degree ceased when he learned that opportunities for
minority engineers were very limited. Although chemistry and physics interested
him as well, he discovered that the mathematics co-requisite for these
disciplines were more interesting. The energetic and clear mathematics
teaching of Professor James Frankowsky was also a great contributing factor
in his decision to major in Mathematics. So in 1961, he graduated from Lincoln
University with an AB degree in Mathematics.
Professor Frankowsky encouraged him to pursue a graduate degree in Mathematics.
He enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
Donaldson liked the Mathematics Department at the University of Illinois.
He found constraining, character-building and inconvenient, however,
the elements of racism and racial tensions that existed on the campus --
mainly in housing and some on-campus employment -- and in the wider community.
All during his graduate days at the University of Illinois he was part
of the unending campaign to rid that community of all vestiges of both
subtle and overt racism.
He recalls vividly one incident that occurred during his first year
at the University. He was given a summer position as a computer operator.
The Director of the Computer Center told Donaldson that he needed to go
to the university's employment center to complete an application. A few
weeks later he was informed by the employment service that he had received
a score of 71 on his employment entrance examination. This information
was a puzzle since Donaldson had completed only an application form. A
co-worker told Donaldson of his good fortune to have been given the position
before completing the application because the employment service's practice
was to send for interviews for the position the three applicants receiving
the highest scores. Upon questioning how the examination was scored, Donaldson
was told 70 points was given for completing high school, and five additional
points were given for every additional year of post-secondary Education.
The employment service was unable to explain how Donaldson, a first year
graduate student, had received a score of 71.
Donaldson received the MS degree in Mathematics in 1963, and the Ph.D.
in Mathematics in 1965 after writing his thesis in differential equations under
the supervision of Professor Ray G. Langebartel. His interests in differential
equations have continued and his research publications include numerous
papers in analysis, differential equations, and applied mathematics. He
has lectured widely on his research in North America, Africa, Asia, and
Other interests of Donaldson include the History of Mathematics, Mathematics
Education and the training of Mathematics Teachers. It is Donaldson's view
that the manner in which mathematics is presented to undergraduate students
is pushing away many potential mathematics students. Also, he observes
that many students enter college devoid of fundamental mathematical skills
normally taught in high school. To correct this problem he believes that
mathematics departments must play a greater role in training mathematics
teachers and developing mathematics curricula.
Following appointments at Southern University (summers of 1964, 1965,
and 1966), Howard University (1965-1966), the University of Illinois at
Chicago (1966-1971), and the University of New Mexico (1969-1971), he returned
to Howard University in 1971. He has held visiting positions at The Courant
Institute of Mathematical Science, the University of Victoria (British
Columbia, Canada), the University of Ferrara (Italy), and Duke University.
During his tenure as chairman (1972-1990), the Howard University Mathematics
Department underwent a transformation ushering in a strong research program
that justified the development and inauguration of the first and only Ph.D.
degree program at an African American University. This program has become
a major producer in America of African American holders of a Ph.D. degree
Donaldson has served as a member of committees in several professional
mathematics and science organizations. He has held national offices in
several professional organizations: member of the Council of the American
Mathematical Society, second vice president of the Mathematical Association
of America, and editor of the newsletter of the National Association of
Mathematicians. He has served as a consultant to the National Science Foundation,
the National Research Council, the Sloan Foundation, the Educational Testing
Service, several state boards of Education, many mathematics departments,
and the D.C. Public School System.
Other interests include efforts to increase the participation in mathematics
and science by members of underrepresented groups. He was a member of the
Science and Technology Commission of the Sixth Pan African Congress. Currently,
he is a member of several Boards: DC TransAfrica and the Davis-Putter Scholarship
Fund. Also, he is an administrator for the Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund.
Marian Davis, one of the persons for whom the fund is named, was very active
in the struggle of Civil Rights and at the time of her death, her friends
set up a scholarship fund in her name. This fund provides 25-30 scholarships
to both undergraduate and graduate students who are active in movements
for social change.
He is a former President of the General Alumni Association of
Lincoln University and is currently a member of the Lincoln University
Board of Trustees where he serves on several committees and serves as
chairman of its Student Affairs Committee. Most recently, Donaldson
has just been appointed Acting President at his alma mater, Lincoln University
[Dr. Donaldson and Katie Ambruso]SUMMA would like to thank the Alfred
P. Sloan Foundation for their interest, encouragement and support in
the development of the SUMMA Website. Please send comments, corrections,
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