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Edyth May Sliffe 1901-1986

by Walter E. Mientka

Many talented and dedicated mathematics teachers are responsible for their school's consistently high scores on mathematics competitions. Such teachers must wonder why all the awards and recognition go to the team and none to the teachers. One such teacher was Miss Edyth May Sliffe who taught at Emery High School in Emeryville, California until her retirement in 1962. She decided to do something about this inequity.

In 1978 Edyth contacted Professor Kenneth Rebman, Governor of the Northern California Section of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) at the time, expressing interest in making a bequest to the MAA to give awards to high school mathematics teachers whose teams do well on the American High School Mathematics Examination (AHSME, now the AMC 12). Her students had always done well on that examination and had received various honors, but she had never received any recognition. She believed that such teachers should also receive recognition and awards. Professor Rebman contacted Professor Henry Alder, then MAA President, and suggested that he contact Edyth. After a meeting with Professor Alder, Edyth arranged that, aside from small bequests to two cousins, her estate would go to the MAA to be used to recognize, annually, twenty mathematics teachers who were responsible for the success of the highest scoring school teams on the AHSME.

I was informed of the will by Henry Alder and David Roselle (then Secretary of the MAA), and thus began a nine year association with Edyth. I found her to be an extremely bright, thoughtful, and sensitive person. Her students considered her to be a "hard" teacher. (She required them to write "neat" solutions to the homework problems in notebooks which she graded critically every night.) I attended an Emery High School multiple class reunion with her and saw a continuous procession of former students thanking her for the education and discipline she gave them. I was regularly in touch with her either by telephone or in person until her death on December 11, 1986.

Edyth was born in Fox Valley, Oregon on May 4, 1901 and grew up in Jon Day, a small lumber town in eastern Oregon nestled at the foot of Strawberry Mountain. Her father, who delivered supplies with a two horse wagon to the lumber camps, taught her the fundamentals of Investment. This ultimately led to a significant stock portfolio. Following her graduation from the University of Oregon with a music major, she moved to California where she enrolled in several courses in mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley. She then began her teaching career at Emery High School where she taught for thirty-six years. Her principal interests during her retirement years were in her investments and ballroom dancing.

The assets of Edyth's estate were distributed in accordance with her will. The amount that went to the MAA was in excess of a quarter million dollars. In February 1988, MAA President Gillman appointed the Edyth May Sliffe Awards Committee to decide on those mechanisms not specified in the will for making the awards. Her bequest will be used to provide monetary awards ranging from three hundred and fifty to seven hundred and fifty dollars, a letter of recognition from the President of the MAA and a MAA Certificate, a free one-year membership in the MAA, and suitable recognition in national and regional professional publications.

The "Edyth May Sliffe Awards for Distinguished High School Mathematics Teaching" recognize the excellence of teachers responsible for the success for the highest scoring teams on the AHSME (AMC 12). Beginning with the 1989 AHSME approximately twenty teachers a year have received this honor, selected from the top sixty United States and Canadian schools on the basis of nominations received from students at these schools.

Consistent with the philosophy of recognizing distinguished teaching, in 1995 the Sliffe Award committee recommended to the MAA the extension of the Award to teachers in Middle Schools. The criteria for the selection of the award winners are found in the annual Summary of Results and Awards of the AJHSME (now the AMC 8). The bequest provides one hundred dollar awards to five teachers from each of ten American Mathematics Competition Regions.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have known Edyth. She has provided the MAA with the opportunity to recognize teachers whose dedication to developing their students' mathematical talent is outstanding. Each year over 8,600 teachers assist with the implementation of the AHSME (AMC 12 and AMC 10) and the AJHSME (AMC 8), and it is now gratifying to know that about seventy of them a year are recognized as EDYTH MAY SLIFFE AWARD recipients.

Walter E. Mientka is now retired as Executive Director of the International Mathematical Olympiad, USA 2001, and is Executive Director Emeritus of the American Mathematics Competitions. These competitions are cosponsored by the following organizations: The MAA, The Akamai Foundation, The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, The Society of Actuaries, Mu Alpha Theta, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, The Casualty Actuarial Society, The American Statistical Association, American Mathematical Association of Two Year Colleges, The American Mathematical Society, The American Society of Pension Actuaries, Consortium for Mathematics and its Applications, Pi Mu Epsilon, National Association of Mathematicians and School Science and Mathematics Association, INFORM

This narrative is adapted from an article in MAA FOCUS, January/February 1989. MAA FOCUS is published by The Mathematical Association of America.