J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. lives in Atlanta, Georgia where he is currently working as Distinguished Professor of Applied Mathematics and Mathematical Physics at Clark Atlanta University. Prior to joining the faculty of Clark Atlanta University in September 1990, he had retired from an already exemplary career as a mathematician, physicist, and engineer. Responding to the influence, nurture and guidance of his parents, and developing his talents, he achieved much.
Born on November 23, 1923 in Chicago, Illinois, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. entered the University of Chicago to study mathematics at the age of 13. He received his B.S. degree as a Phi Beta Kappa graduate in 1940 at the age of 16, his M.S. degree in 1941 at the age of 17, and his Ph.D. degree in December 1942 at the age of 19. In 1942 he was also a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study. This was the beginning of one of the most exemplary careers of scholarship and application of an American mathematician/physicist/engineer in the 20th century.
In 1943-44 Wilkins taught mathematics at Tuskegee Institute, from 1944-1946 he worked as a physicist in the University of Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory, and from 1946 to 1950 he worked as a mathematician at the American Optical Company (Buffalo, NY). From 1950 to 1960 he worked at the United Nuclear Corporation in White Plains, NY. During his tenure there he earned a bachelor's (1957) and a master's (1960) degree in Mechanical Engineering from New York University while also rising from Senior Mathematician to Manager of Research and Development. For ten years (1960-70) he worked at the General Atomic Company in San Diego, CA, rising from Assistant Chairman of Theoretical Physics, to Assistant Director of Defense Science and Engineering, to Director of Computational Research. In 1970 he joined Howard University as Distinguished Professor of Applied Mathematical Physics, remaining until 1977, during which period he also served as a visiting scientist for one year at Argonne National Laboratory. From 1977-1984 he worked at EG&G Idaho, Inc. (Idaho Falls, ID), rising from Vice President and Associate General Manager for Science and Engineering to Vice President and Deputy General Manager for Science and Engineering. In 1984-85 he was an Argonne Fellow at the Argonne National Laboratory and he was in retirement from 1985-1990.
Although he has been highly praised as a superb practitioner of his craft, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. is also widely recognized and acclaimed as a world-class scholar, having published 81 papers and having produced an additional 22 unpublished reports for the Atomic Energy Commission. In addition to his scholarly activities and professional positions, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. has been very active in professional and civic activities, including active membership in the American Mathematical Society (Council Member 1975-77), American Association for the Advancement of Science, Mathematical Association of America, Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the Optical Society of America, Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, American Nuclear Society (Board of Directors 1967-77; President 1974-75), American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Association for Computing Machinery, National Association of Mathematicians, and others. For these and many other professional and civic groups, J. Ernest Wilkins, Jr. has shared his talents by donating hundred of hours to the positive development of humanity. One of his outstanding contributions was that of playing a significant role of helping Howard University to establish a Ph.D. Program in mathematics, the only doctoral program in mathematics at a Historically Black College or University. Many awards and honors have been bestowed upon him for his exemplary career of service and scholarship. Perhaps the most noteworthy among these are his election to the National Academy of Engineering (1976), his being awarded the Outstanding Civilian Service Medal (U.S. Army, 1980), his election as a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1956), his elections as a Fellow of the American Nuclear Society (1964) and his election to Phi Beta Kappa (1940), Sigma XI (1942), Pi Tau Sigma (1956), and Tau Beta Pi (1956).
Many groups and organizations have recognized his outstanding achievements, the latest being the National Association of Mathematicians, who elected him an Honorary Life Member in 1994, and will honor him with a special award later this year .
[Johnny L. Houston, Executive Secretary of NAM]
This biography first appeared in the NAM Newsletter, Fall Issue, 1994. It has been reprinted with permission from NAM.