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Henry Otto Pollak, 1975-1976 MAA President

Born: December 13, 1927, Vienna, Austria

Henry Otto Pollak is an applied mathematician who worked at Bell Laboratories for many years and a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Presidency: 1975-76

At the annual meeting of the Michigan Section of the MAA in May 1975, Pollak gave an invited address, "On the relationship between applications of mathematics and teaching of mathematics."

On May 7, 1976, Pollak gave a talk, How Should Applications Influence Mathematics Education?, at a symposium for W.L. Duren on the occasion of his retirement.

Education and Career

1947 Yale University, B.A.
1948 Harvard University, M.A.
1951 Harvard University, Ph.D.

Pollak worked at Bell Laboratories from 1951 to 1983. He was director of the Mathematics and Statistics Research Center and published dozens of technical papers. Selected aspects of his research include band limiting, the loop switching problem, the shortest network problem, and the Steiner problem in various topologies. He also taught in the internal education program and found he preferred teaching in industry to teaching in a university, which he had done while in graduate school. In a 1984 interview, he said,

The big difference between industry and university is not whether or not you teach. The difference is that in industry you typically have more students who want to learn.

A strong interest in mathematics education has been evident throughout Pollak's career. He advocates including more applied mathematics in both general education and mathematics education. He is a visiting professor of mathematics education at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he also teaches graduate mathematics courses. Pollak contributed "Solving Problems in the Real World" to Why Numbers Count: Quantitative Literacy for Tomorrow's America (1997), edited by Lynn Steen.

Pollak was heavily involved with the School Mathematics Study Group (SMSG), an attempt to improve primary and secondary American mathematics education. Invited by Edward Begle and Albert Tucker, he participated in the initial four-week writing session of the SMSG, creating new curriculum (1958-60). He later was a member of the SMSG advisory board (1961-64, 1967-72) and its chairman (1963-64).

In addition to the SMSG, Pollak has been active in numerous professional organizations. He was chairman (1959-60) and governor (1961-64) of the New Jersey Section of the MAA, the 1973 MAA Hedrick lecturer, and a member of the AMS Council (1962-65, 1977-78). He participated in boards and committees of the National Research Council between 1962 and 1989 and of the National Science Foundation (1970-73, 1978-80).

Pollak received the MAA Certificate for Meritorious Service (1990), the MAA Gung and Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award (1993), and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Service to Mathematics Education (2010).

External Resources

Faculty website at Teachers College, Columbia University

NCTM Honors Pollak and Tunis with the Lifetime Achievement in Mathematics Education Award

Gung and Hu Distinguished Service to Mathematics Award citation

Bowdoin Honorary Doctorate (pdf)

"A Conversation with Henry Pollak," from Mathematical People: Profiles and Interviews, by Donald J. Albers and Gerald L. Alexanderson

MAA Officers Records, Henry O. Pollak, President at the Archives of American Mathematics

The Mathematics Genealogy Project