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Etta Zuber Falconer

  • Ethnicity: African American
  • Gender: F
  • Year of Birth: 1933
  • Place of Birth: Tupelo, Mississippi
  • Year of Death: 2002


  • PhD Institution: Emory University, 1969
  • Dissertation Title: Quasi group Identities Invariant Under Isotopy
  • Advisor: Trevor Evans
  • MS Institution: University of Wisconsin, 1954
  • BA Institution: Fisk University, 1953


"My entire career has been devoted to increasing the number of African American women in mathematics and mathematics-related careers." -- Etta Falconer, 1995.

Etta Falconer was born in Tupelo, Mississippi as Etta Zuber, the second of two children (an older sister Alice) born to Dr. Walter A. Zuber, a physician, and Mrs. Zadie L. Montgomery Zuber, a musician who had attended Spelman College. While working at Okolona Junior College, Etta met and married her life partner of more than 35 years, the late Dolan Falconer. From this union came three children: Dolan Falconer, Jr., an engineer, Dr. Alice Falconer Wilson, a physician, and Dr. Walter Falconer, a physician.

Etta Falconer became committed to being a lifelong learner at an early age. She attended public schools in Tupelo, graduating from George Washington High School in 1949. She attended Fisk University, graduating summa sum laude with a major in mathematics and a minor in chemistry (1953). She was also inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. Immediately following graduation from college, she attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison where she earned the MS degree in Mathematics (1954). After a few years of teaching at the junior college/college level, she entered Emory University in Atlanta where her studies culminated in 1969 with a Ph.D. degree in algebra (Quasi groups and Loops); and with a dissertation entitled: "Quasi group Identities Invariant under Isotopy." Additional formal studies include earning a Master's Degree in Computer Science from Atlanta University (1982); attending the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana during the summers of 1962-1965 and during the 1964-65 academic year at a National Science Foundation (NSF) Teacher Training Institute; and she attended the University of California-Santa Barbara (summer of 1980) - a workshop on "The Integration of Micro-Computers into the the Undergraduate Mathematics Curriculum." Annually she attends several professional conferences, workshops, meetings, etc., in which she continues to build upon and share her storehouse of vast knowledge in the mathematical sciences. She is recognized by her peers in the profession as being one of the most influential and respected leaders in mathematics and science Education.

Coupled with her lifelong commitment to learning is her lifelong commitment to assisting and providing mathematics and science Education for aspiring youth, especially African American Women. She began her teaching career in 1954 at Okolona Junior College in Okolona, MS where she remained until 1963. During this 1963-64 AY she taught at Howard High School in Chattanooga, TN.

In 1965, Falconer embarked upon a very impressive career as faculty and educator at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, rising from the position of instructor to associate professor (1965-71), while also becoming the 11th African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in Mathematics (1969). During the 1971-72 AY, she was on the mathematics faculty at Norfolk State University, Norfolk, VA; returning to the faculty of Spelman College, she served as professor and Mathematics Department chair (1972-1982); as chairperson of the Division of Natural Sciences (1982-90); as the Fuller E. Calloway Professor of mathematics and Director of Science Programs and Policy (1990); and from 1991 to present, as Fuller E. Calloway Professor of Mathematics and Associate Provost for Science Programs and Policy. This succession of promotions have permitted her to positively impact the lives of hundreds of young ladies in mathematics and the sciences as well as scores of faculty. During her approximately thirty year tenure at Spelman, Falconer has become one of American's most productive, distinguished and influential mathematics and science educators, generously sharing her time, talents, energies, scholarly publications and presentations with thousands of persons throughout the USA. Her many professional activities included working in several capacities with the American Association for the Advancement in Science (AAAS), the American Mathematical Society (AMS), Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) - Council Member (1980-84), Mathematical Association of American (MAA) - Director of BAM (1977-88), National Association of Mathematicians (NAM) - Secretary (1970-73)/Cox-Talbot Address (1994), National Institute of Science (NIS), National Science Foundation (NSF) - Panelist/Featured in film "Science Women's Work," Women in Science Careers (WSC) - Director 1976/Panelist 1977-84, and Joint Committee on Women - AMS-MAA-NCTM-SIAM (1978-84). It has been a delightful privilege and the good fortune of the author to have worked with her in several capacities.

For her many contributions, she has received several honors, awards and recognitions. These include a NSF Faculty Fellow (1967-69), the UNCF Distinguished Faculty Award (1986-87), Spelman's Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching (1988), Spelman's Presidential Faculty Award for Distinguished Service (1994), NAM's Distinguished Service Award (1994), AWM's Louis Hay Award for contributions to Mathematics Education (1995), QEM's Giants in Science Award (1995) and the Honorary Degree: Doctorate of Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison (1996).

Falconer has recognized on more that one occasion some of those who had a profound influence on her: "There are several persons who have had a tremendous impact upon my professional life. Dr. Lee Lorch inspired me to study mathematics and helped to mold me as a person because of his belief in the dignity of all people. He remains my mentor to this day. One of the first Black women to earn at Ph.D. in mathematics, Dr. Evelyn Boyd Granville, taught me during my college days and became my first career role model. Finally, Dr. Trevor Evans, my dissertation advisor, fostered my growth in the area of algebra."

[Johnny L. Houston, Executive Secretary of NAM]

This biography first appeared in NAM's Newsletter, Summer Issue, 1996, p. 5. It has been reprinted with the permission of NAM.