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Pólya Lectureship

George Pólya embodied the high quality of exposition which the Mathematical Association of America seeks to encourage. To further this goal, the Board of Governors of the Association established the George Pólya Lectureship. This Lectureship will be held by an individual representing the high expository standards set by George Pólya. A new Pólya Lecturer will be appointed every year, with a term of two academic years. The first year of the term overlaps the term of the previous Pólya Lecturer and the second year overlaps the term of the next Pólya Lecturer.

Each Section is eligible to have a Pólya Lecturer speak at one of its meetings once every five academic years on a rotating basis, with all travel expenses borne by the Association. Thus, if a Section is eligible during the 2020-2021 academic year, for example, they must host the Lecturer during either the Fall 2020 or Spring 2021.

Each year, the Pólya lecturers will be notified as to which sections are eligible for a visit during that year. Sections should contact the lecturer directly to coordinate a visit.

Section Eligibility for the Pólya Lectureship:

2020-2021

Illinois
Kentucky
Missouri
Golden
Seaway
Wisconsin

2021-2022

Louisiana/Mississippi
Indiana
Nebraska/SE South Dakota
Ohio
Southeastern

2022-2023

Allegheny Mountain
Intermountain
Maryland/DC/Virginia
New Jersey
Oklahoma/Arkansas
SoCal/Nevada

2023-2024

EPaDel
Iowa
Metro New York
North Central
Pacific Northwest
Southwestern

2024-2025

Florida
Kansas
Michigan
Northeastern
Rocky Mountain
Texas

2025-2026

Illinois
Kentucky
Missouri
Golden
Seaway
Wisconsin

It is customary for the section to waive any registration, banquet and social fees for the lecturer. The Pólya Lecturer will pay his/her own travel expenses and will be reimbursed by the Association. Should, by accident, a section invite two Pólya speakers, it will be asked to reimburse the Association for the more expensive trip.

Each section is asked to be a thoughtful host. In the crush of meeting details and the distribution of duties amongst section officers and local arrangements faculty, it is sometimes easy for responsibilities to fall through the cracks. Please be sure to consider your visitors' arrangements for travel, lodging, meals, local transportation and registration. In the days of "Saturday night stay overs", it is especially cordial that the section considers Saturday evening dining arrangements. At least give visiting speakers options ("a ride would be great" or "I'll catch a cab") for airport pickups, get-togethers at meals, etc. Be sure to communicate fully about the schedule of events at your meeting.

2021 - 2022 Pólya Lecturers

Sarah J. Greenwald is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences and a faculty affiliate of Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Appalachian State University. Greenwald earned a PhD in Riemannian geometry from the University of Pennsylvania and a BS in mathematics from Union College.

Interdisciplinary scholarship in mathematics and gender studies as well as the scholarship of teaching and learning have inspired a broad variety of published articles, books, plenary addresses, special issues of PRIMUS and more, for example, the educational website SimpsonsMath.com created with Andrew Nestler. Library Journal named the three-volume Encyclopedia of Mathematics & Society coedited with Jill Thomley a “Best Reference 2011.” Plenary addresses have wide-ranging topics including π-day with The Simpsons and Futurama, the geometry of the earth and universe, how and why the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) was founded and is still needed today, mathematical identities: representing the underrepresented, mathematical morsels from The Simpsons and Futurama, popular culture and mathematics: gender, race and more, and Rubik's cube games on spheres.

Investigating connections between mathematics and society, Greenwald has won awards for teaching, scholarship and service. These include an MAA Henry L. Alder Award for Distinguished Teaching by a Beginning College or University Mathematics Faculty Member, an AWM Service Award, and College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher of the Year. As an AWM Fellow, Greenwald was cited for “creative and effective efforts to spark interest in mathematics among young people, especially girls… extensive contributions to advancing women in mathematics through writing, lectures and working with professional societies… and mentorship of students.” Greenwald’s Erdős-Bacon number is six, seven or infinity, depending on what and how we count. For instance, the interactive mathematics lecture “Bite My Shiny Metal X” has been distributed on approximately one million DVDs worldwide as a 25-minute extra for the Futurama movie Bender's Big Score and is listed as “Mind-bending.” Greenwald has spoken about the impacts of scientific popular culture representations on NPR's Science Friday and all over the country.

Dr. Talithia Williams is a host of the PBS series NOVA Wonders, a groundbreaking professor, popular TED speaker, inspiring author and passionate STEM/STEAM advocate. She has made it her life's work to get people of all ages and backgrounds excited about the bold possibilities of a STEM education and to “STEMpower” women and minorities to enter these professions. Her latest book, Power in Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics reflects Williams’ passion to re-brand the field of mathematics as anything but dry, technical or male-dominated. Renowned for her popular TED Talk, “Own Your Body’s Data,” she advocates for all of us to deploy data as a way of taking charge of our own health. A vibrant, engaging and energizing speaker, Dr. Williams demystifies data, statistics, probabilities and the mathematical process in amusing and insightful ways. She also passionately champions the contributions of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians and their vital role in transforming our future.
     Dr. Williams is Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity and Associate Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, where she develops statistical models which emphasize the spatial and temporal structure of data, applying them to real world problems. Focused on data analytics, mathematics, statistical modeling and STEM outreach, she is the first African-American woman to achieve tenure at the college. She hosts NOVA Wonders, a PBS mini-series that explores the biggest questions on the frontiers of science. The Los Angeles Times praised the show for sending the message “that scientists come in a range of ages, genders, colors and hairstyles.” She also appeared in NOVA’s Prediction by the Numbers, a series exploring the history of probabilities and gambling which Forbes called, “an entertaining, fun piece that conveys her knowledgeable and deep interest in this predictive method.” In addition to her teaching and television work, she has partnered with the World Health Organization in developing a cataract model used to predict the cataract surgical rate for countries in Africa. Her professional experiences include research appointments at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and the National Security Agency.
     An exceptional communicator and gifted teacher, Dr. Williams won the Mathematical Association of America’s Henry L. Alder Award for distinguished teaching. She also developed a 24-part college level lecture series, "Learning Statistics: Concepts and Applications in R", for The Great Courses, an online platform for lifelong learners. Dr. Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Spelman College, a master’s degree in mathematics from Howard University and a PhD in statistics from Rice University. In 2019, she received an honorary doctorate from Fielding Graduate University for her "substantial impact on higher education" and for "championing the development of women in the STEM professions."
     Described by audiences as engaging, relevant, funny, accessible, and a joy to work with, Dr. Williams captivates and inspires with her contagious enthusiasm for STEM in general and math in particular. Applying the data-driven approach made famous in her TED talk to a range of subjects, she takes sophisticated numerical concepts and makes them understandable to a wide audience, debunking perceptions with an energizing call to “show me the data!”

2020 - 2021 Pólya Lecturers

Dr. Talithia Williams is a host of the PBS series NOVA Wonders, a groundbreaking professor, popular TED speaker, inspiring author and passionate STEM/STEAM advocate. She has made it her life's work to get people of all ages and backgrounds excited about the bold possibilities of a STEM education and to “STEMpower” women and minorities to enter these professions. Her latest book, Power in Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics reflects Williams’ passion to re-brand the field of mathematics as anything but dry, technical or male-dominated. Renowned for her popular TED Talk, “Own Your Body’s Data,” she advocates for all of us to deploy data as a way of taking charge of our own health. A vibrant, engaging and energizing speaker, Dr. Williams demystifies data, statistics, probabilities and the mathematical process in amusing and insightful ways. She also passionately champions the contributions of scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians and their vital role in transforming our future.
     Dr. Williams is Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Diversity and Associate Professor of Mathematics at Harvey Mudd College, where she develops statistical models which emphasize the spatial and temporal structure of data, applying them to real world problems. Focused on data analytics, mathematics, statistical modeling and STEM outreach, she is the first African-American woman to achieve tenure at the college. She hosts NOVA Wonders, a PBS mini-series that explores the biggest questions on the frontiers of science. The Los Angeles Times praised the show for sending the message “that scientists come in a range of ages, genders, colors and hairstyles.” She also appeared in NOVA’s Prediction by the Numbers, a series exploring the history of probabilities and gambling which Forbes called, “an entertaining, fun piece that conveys her knowledgeable and deep interest in this predictive method.” In addition to her teaching and television work, she has partnered with the World Health Organization in developing a cataract model used to predict the cataract surgical rate for countries in Africa. Her professional experiences include research appointments at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, NASA’s Johnson Space Center, and the National Security Agency.
     An exceptional communicator and gifted teacher, Dr. Williams won the Mathematical Association of America’s Henry L. Alder Award for distinguished teaching. She also developed a 24-part college level lecture series, "Learning Statistics: Concepts and Applications in R", for The Great Courses, an online platform for lifelong learners. Dr. Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Spelman College, a master’s degree in mathematics from Howard University and a PhD in statistics from Rice University. In 2019, she received an honorary doctorate from Fielding Graduate University for her "substantial impact on higher education" and for "championing the development of women in the STEM professions."
     Described by audiences as engaging, relevant, funny, accessible, and a joy to work with, Dr. Williams captivates and inspires with her contagious enthusiasm for STEM in general and math in particular. Applying the data-driven approach made famous in her TED talk to a range of subjects, she takes sophisticated numerical concepts and makes them understandable to a wide audience, debunking perceptions with an energizing call to “show me the data!”

Charles Hadlock is a Professor of Mathematical Sciences and the Trustee Professor of Technology, Policy, and Decision Making at Bentley University where he previously served as Dean and Chair of both the Departments of Mathematical Sciences and of Finance. He has also taught at Amherst, Bowdoin College, the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and MIT (in the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department). His mathematical career began with a dogged but unsuccessful attempt to disprove his high school geometry teacher’s doctrinal assertion that one could not even trisect a 60-degree angle with compass and straightedge. Some years later, this led to his widely read Carus Monograph, Field Theory and Its Classical Problems, which received the first Beckenbach Award of the Mathematical Association of America and is still in print after 40 years. He spent his mid-career at the consulting firm of Arthur D. Little where he led a risk and environmental practice that included early investigations for EPA and other clients into power plant safety, nuclear and hazardous waste disposal, and related topics. He is sometimes called a “blue collar” mathematician for his penchant for visiting plants and field sites around the world to understand their risks. His book Mathematical Modeling in the Environment draws from this experience. Most recently, he and his students have been studying the common dynamics of abrupt and often unexpected change across many fields, discussed in his book Six Sources of Collapse. Students report that his classes are memorable: after all how many undergraduate math classes go slogging through muddy Superfund sites or highly secure nuclear plants, or involve live and real auctions that keep Venmo quite busy?

 

View the list of past Pólya Lecturers

 

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