Third Annual M. Gweneth Humphreys Award

posted Mar 2, 2013, 9:00 PM by AWM Web Editor
The award is named for M. Gweneth Humphreys (1911-2006). Professor Humphreys graduated with honors in mathematics from the University of British Columbia in 1932, earning the prestigious Governor General’s Gold Medal at graduation. After receiving her master’s degree from Smith College in 1933, Humphreys earned her Ph.D. at age 23 from the University of Chicago in 1935. She taught mathematics to women for her entire career, first at Mount St. Scholastica College, then for several years at Sophie Newcomb College, and finally for over thirty years at Randolph Macon Woman’s College. This award, funded by contributions from her former students and colleagues at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, recognizes her commitment to and her profound influence on undergraduate students of mathematics.

James Morrow

The Association for Women in Mathematics is pleased to present its third annual M. Gweneth Humphreys Award to Professor James Morrow of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Washington (UW). The letters of nomination describe Jim as a superb teacher. Annually, he teaches the year-long Honors Advanced Calculus at UW in which he teaches students how to approach and enjoy problem solving. He challenges the students with tough problems, but also provides motivation and enormous support to get them to discover the solutions. He has an outstanding record of motivating women students to pursue advanced degrees and research careers in the mathematical sciences. He accomplishes this by encouraging his students, by fostering their confidence, and by understanding and anticipating their needs as they follow their interests.

A mid-career shift in Jim’s research program from complex geometry to discrete inverse problems fortuitously extended his already well-established influence on undergraduate women (and men), primarily through the NSF-funded REU he co-founded in 1988 at UW. Often described by the NSF as a model program, it has attracted a stellar group of students in its 24 years of existence. Included in this group are nearly 30 women who have gone on to do graduate work in the mathematical sciences, often at top-tier universities.

In support of Jim’s nomination, several women expressed sentiments conveyed in these excerpts: “I am very grateful to Jim Morrow for the course my life has taken over the past several years. He saw potential in my application to his REU way back when I was a junior in college and I had not taken many advanced classes… Like too many other mathematically talented women, I didn’t really think about graduate school as a possibility; no one had suggested it to me… Thanks to Jim, I did consider it, and now I am a successful student at a very good graduate school.” “I’m pretty sure that if it weren’t for Jim, I never would have become a mathematician.” “Jim was the most influential professor in my undergraduate career… His devotion to his students is unparalleled.” The AWM is proud to honor Jim Morrow’s outstanding achievements in inspiring undergraduate women to discover and pursue their passion for mathematics.

Response from James Morrow

My first reaction when I was notified that I had received the M. Gweneth Humphreys Award was disbelief. There are so many deserving candidates that I thought it very unlikely that I would get the award. When our Chair, Selim Tuncel, walked in to the first day of this summer’s REU program and asked me if I had read my email and told me the news, I was stunned into speechlessness.

My second, and lasting reaction, is that my students are the ones who deserve the award. I am supremely lucky to have been able to work with such outstanding people. I feel like I am just an observer and my only contribution is to listen, encourage, and help my students realize their potential. Seeing these students do so well is my main joy in teaching. My students seem like they are my children, and my main duty is to help them make good decisions. I hope that they can be as lucky as I have been to have a rewarding life in which their work is something they deeply love.

I prefer not to single out any of them, but I’d like to quote two of them. “If you hadn’t encouraged me to apply to your REU program, I doubt I would have become a mathematician. And I love my work!” “You are one of the truly gender-blind math teachers I’ve ever had (including women), and that in and of itself is a blessing to your female students.”