Rocket-science mathematician/alumna to speak at Yale

Earning a doctorate in mathematics is an extraordinary achievement, especially if you are an African American woman.

Earning a doctorate in mathematics is an extraordinary achievement, especially if you are an African American woman.

The very first such person ever to earn a Ph.D. in math in the United States (Yale 1949), Evelyn Boyd Granville, will be at Yale from February 23 through 25.

Granville will speak in Sterling Memorial Library's lecture hall on February 24 at noon. Her topic is “Solving Real World Problems: A Role for Mathematics.” She will also be guest of honor at a Master's Tea in Silliman College at 4 p.m. that same day. Both events are free and open to the public.

Born to a working-class family in 1924, Granville attended segregated public schools in Washington, D.C. Her mother finished high school and was a secretary for the U.S. government. Her father had less education and held a series of jobs: chauffeur, building superintendent and the like. Both parents wanted their children to better themselves: “Education was preached to us all our lives,” Granville recalls. “The message we got at home and in school was, get an education and have a quality life. It was assumed that we'd go to college.”

She went to Smith College, where she majored in math and minored in physics. She graduated summa cum laude and was named to Phi Beta Kappa. Then she came to Yale, where she earned master's and doctoral degrees in math – unusual accomplishments for a woman in any era, and still unusual today.

Today, the ratio of male mathematicians to female is roughly 10 to 1, according to Yale's math department. Records don't go back to 1949, but in the past 30 years, only 25 women have received a Ph.D. in math at Yale, and not one identified herself as African American, according to Yale's Office of Institutional Research.

After graduation from Yale, Granville taught at NYU and then Fisk University, before launching her research career in 1952 as a specialist in rocket and missile fuses, orbit computations and trajectory calculations for national defense and the U.S. space program. She worked for the Department of the Army, IBM, NASA and North American Aviation, providing technical support for the Vanguard, Mercury and Apollo projects.

While still working for IBM, she returned to teaching, and from 1961 to 1997, taught at the University of Southern California, California State and then the University of Texas. In addition, she served as an educational consultant to the State of California, helping to improve the teaching of math in elementary and secondary schools.

Granville's visit to Yale is jointly sponsored by the George J. Schulz Lectureship and the Hoyt Fund. Curtis Patton, professor of epidemiology and public health, is coordinating arrangements for Granville's stay in New Haven.

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