- Ethnicity: African American
- Gender: M
- Year of Birth: 1941
- Place of Birth: Madison County, Florida
AB Institution: Lincoln University, 1961 Biography 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 Europe.
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 in Mathematics.
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 (Fall 1998).
[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, and suggestions to the SUMMA office of the MAA to the attention of William A. Hawkins, Ph.D. Thank you for visiting our page, please come again. SUMMA Home page Index for the Archival Record Return to the top of the page.Kathleen Ambruso