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Mathematics for Human Flourishing

by Francis E. Su

Year of Award: 2018

Publication Information: The American Mathematical Monthly, Volume 124, Number 6, June-July 2017, Pages 483-493.

Summary: Francis Su's stirring article asks us to reflect on the question: Why do mathematics? How we answer affects who we think should be doing mathematics, and how we will teach it. Throughout his essay, Su draws on his own experiences, those of his students, and the writings of Simone Weil to illustrate how the pursuit of mathematics can meet basic human desires for play, beauty, truth, justice, and love. He shows us how the fundamentally human drives that motivate us to do mathematics can be channeled to build a world in which all can truly flourish.

Response from the Author:

I'm truly grateful for this honor, and to the Monthly for publishing my piece. I am fortunate to have colleagues and students who constantly challenge me to be a better teacher, and who have blessed my life through friendship that cannot be separated from rich mathematical experiences. It is through them that I have come to understand that if we are to teach mathematics well, we must tap into basic desires all human beings share, and we must elevate the humanity and the dignity of those we teach.

About the Author:

Francis Su is the Benediktsson-Karwa Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, and past president of MAA. He received his BS from UT-Austin and his PhD from Harvard University. His research is in geometric combinatorics, and he has a passion for popularizing mathematics: he has a popular Math Fun Facts website and is creator of MathFeed, the math news app. From MAA, he received the 2001 Hasse Prize for expository writing and the 2004 Alder Award and 2013 Haimo Award for distinguished teaching. He is currently writing a full-length book on "Mathematics for Human Flourishing," to be published by Yale University Press in 2019.