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Former Math Department Chair George Berzsenyi Gets MAA’s Lifetime Achievement Honor

March 16, 2016

George Berzsenyi

Honored By Peers: George Berzsenyi (right) received the Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) Yueh-Gin Gung and Charles Y. Hu Award for distinguished service to mathematics. MAA President Francis Su presented the award at this year’s American Mathematical Society and MAA joint meetings in Seattle. (Photo provided by the MAA)

Former Department of Mathematics Chair George Berzsenyi has received the Mathematical Association of America’s (MAA) lifetime award for distinguished service to the international mathematics community. He was nominated by his former students.

Berzsenyi has devoted his career toward finding and nurturing future problem solvers in engineering, the sciences, law, and medicine career fields. He served on several MAA math competition committees, led the American Invitational Mathematics Examination for its first six years, and founded the USA Mathematical Talent Search (USAMTS) and Young Scholars Program.

The USAMTS attracted about 1,000 students per year, including some of the nation’s very best young scholars. One year, all six members of the USA team sent to the International Mathematical Olympiad were involved in the USAMTS program.

“I fully believe that with similar intensity in our talent developments efforts through the USAMTS or some other program, the United States would be similarly successful in the education of its just as talented youth. To me the worst waste possible is the waste of talent. That is a country’s greatest natural treasure,” says Berzsenyi.

Some of Berzsenyi’s students from 15 years as a math professor at Lamar University, along with his association with math competitions, have become professors at Harvard University, Princeton University, and California Institute of Technology, while one is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Berzsenyi also was a popular columnist for the Consortium and Quantum math journals.

At Rose-Hulman, Berzsenyi initiated the Al Schmidt Freshman Math Competition, the Technical Report Series, and a study abroad program to showcase student scholars during his decade on the math faculty, including six years in leading the department. He encouraged Rose-Hulman to participate in the Mathematical Modeling Competition and a student team won the national championship in the institute’s first year. He also supported bringing esteemed math scholars and other visiting faculty members to the campus colloquia speakers’ series.

“In addition to benefiting students, George’s programs also broadened Rose-Hulman's reputation as an excellent place to study mathematics,” says mathematics professor emeritus Roger Lautzenheiser, who edited the Rose-Hulman Undergraduate Math Journal during Berzsenyi’s tenure as department chair. The journal expanded its focus during those years and became the first online undergraduate math journal.

Not surprisingly, Berzsenyi has spent his retirement being involved in a variety of mathematical programs, while also focusing on family, travel, genealogy, and writing. He is the father of mechanical engineering alumni Eric Berzsenyi (1992) and Daniel Berzsenyi (1994), and father-in-law to alumna Agnes Berzsenyi, who earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1995.