Etta Zuber Falconer Lecture

The Association for Women in Mathematics and the Mathematical Association of America annually present the Etta Zuber Falconer Lecture to honor women who have made distinguished contributions to the mathematical sciences or mathematics education. These one-hour expository lectures are presented at MAA MathFest each summer.

While the lectures began with MathFest 1996, the title “Etta Zuber Falconer Lecture” was established in 2004 in memory of Falconer’s profound vision and accomplishments in enhancing the movement of minorities and women into scientific careers. Etta Zuber Falconer herself was the 1995 winner of the Hay Award. Dr. Falconer’s citation for this award can be found below.

Deanna Needell, 2024 Falconer Lecturer

Photo by Sierra Sutherland, SLMath

Etta Zuber Falconer in 1956

Nomination Period: August 1 – September 15

Nomination Location: All nominations can be made at To locate the nomination form in MathPrograms, click on  “View Programs” at the top right of the page. Scroll down to the programs listed for “Association for Women in Mathematics” and click “Nominate” next to the AWM-MAA Falconer Lecture.

Nominator: Any person can be a nominator! People of any gender can be a nominator, self-nominations are allowed, and you do not need to be an AWM member to nominate someone for this award. If this is a self-nomination, then you must have one additional letter of support.

Nomination Packet: Nominations materials for this award should be compiled into a single PDF file and include the following:

  • A nomination letter that
    • outlines the nominee’s distinguished contributions to the mathematical sciences or mathematics education;
    • addresses the nominee’s ability to deliver an expository lecture;
  • A curriculum vitae of the candidate not to exceed three pages.

All submitted materials become the property of the AWM.

Award Criteria: This lecture will be awarded annually to honor a woman for distinguished contributions to mathematical sciences or mathematics education.

Nominee Requirements. The award is open to all regardless of nationality and citizenship. Nominations of women from underrepresented minorities are especially encouraged. Nominees must be living at the time of their nomination. 

Presentation of Award. The lecture will be presented at the MAA Mathfest Meeting each August. The recipient will receive a $1000 honorarium, honorary certificate, and will be featured in an article in the AWM Newsletter.

Nominations for this award will remain active for a total of two years (one year beyond the initial nominations).

Prof. Falconer Won the 5th Annual Louise Hay Award

We can measure the impact of an educator and mathematical leader by the excellence and morale of her colleagues and by the number of her students who have undertaken successful careers in mathematics and in fields requiring mathematics. We can also recognize the intangible qualities that inspire and support both students and colleagues. Dr. Etta Z. Falconer of Spelman College embodies all of these qualities. Her many years of service in promoting mathematics at Spelman College and her efforts to enhance the movement of minorities and women into scientific careers through many forums in the mathematics and science communities are extraordinary.

Professor Falconer has promoted and led a cadre of colleagues to develop one of the most productive science programs at a liberal arts college in the United States, where some 38 percent of the students are majors in mathematics, computer science, chemistry, biology, physics, and dual engineering degrees. In her twenty-five years at Spelman College, she has served as chairperson of the Mathematics Department (1972-82), chair of the Natural Sciences Division (1975-90), and currently serves as associate provost for the Science Programs and Policy. She has instituted program after program to strengthen the infrastructure, upgrade the curriculum, and provide the necessary support, including mentoring and undergraduate research experiences, to prepare students to be successful in graduate school. Among her efforts is the NASA Women in Science Program, conceived in 1987, for the purpose of directing high-ability students toward doctoral programs…Yet, in spite of the demands on her time, she has always insisted on teaching mathematics courses because of her desire to stay in touch with students, continuing to personally advise and mentor over one hundred students who major in the natural sciences, physics, or are in the NASA Undergraduate Science Research Program, NASA Women in Science Engineering Program, or the College Honors Program.

Professor Falconer is a dedicated citizen of the professional mathematics community. For the American Mathematical Society she organized meetings of representatives of book publishers to solicit help in removing gender barriers; in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, she served on the Committee on Opportunities in Science during 1979-82; and she is a founder of the National Association of Mathematicians, an organization which promotes concerns of black students and mathematicians, and the Atlanta Minority Women in Science Network.

Bringing her profound wisdom, vision, and vast experience to all her roles as mentor, organizer, project developer, teacher, writer, and role model, Dr. Etta Z. Falconer is a tremendous resource to the students and faculty in mathematics and science at Spelman College, in the local and national mathematics community, and in the broader scientific community.

Response from Etta Z. Falconer

I am deeply honored to receive the fifth annual Louise Hay Award for Contributions to Mathematics Education from the Association for Women in Mathematics. It was such an unexpected pleasure to learn of my selection.

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 the 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.

It was with the highest aspirations that I began my career in the field of mathematics, teaching at a small junior college in Mississippi. I later joined Spelman College, where I was able to crystallize my desire to change the prevailing pattern of limited access and limited success for African American women in mathematics.

I have devoted my entire life to increasing the number of highly qualified African Americans in mathematics and mathematics-related careers. High expectations, the building of self-confidence, and the creation of a nurturing environment have been essential components for the success of these students. They have fully justified my beliefs. Perhaps the most rewarding moments have come when younger faculty have undertaken the same goal and have surpassed my efforts, reaching out to the broader community to help minorities and women achieve in mathematics.

AWM has been responsible for a great deal of positive change within the mathematics community, and my membership has been very gratifying. I extend my warmest thanks to AWM for this wonderful award.

2024 Deanna Needell,

2023 Tatiana Toro, “Geometry of Measures”

2022 Suzanne Weekes, “Continuity at Interfaces”

2020-21 Bonita V. Saunders, “Complex Functions, Mesh Generation, and Hidden Figures in the NIST Digital Library of Mathematical Functions” 

2019  Tara Holm, “Dance of the Astonished Topologist … or How I Left Squares and Hexes for Math” 

2018  Pamela Gorkin, “Finding Ellipses” 

2017  Talithia Williams, “Not So Hidden Figures: Unveiling Mathematical Talent”

2016   Izabella Laba, “Harmonic Analysis and Additive Combinatorics on Fractals”

2015   Erica Walker,  “A Multiplicity All At Once”: Mathematics for Everyone, Everywhere

2014   Marie A. Vitulli, “From Algebraic to Weak Subintegral Extensions in Algebra and Geometry

2013   Pat Kenschaft, “Improving Equity and Education: Why and How

2012   Karen King, “Because I Love Mathematics: The Role of Disciplinary Grounding in Mathematics Education

2011   Dawn Lott, “Mathematical Interventions for Aneurysm Treatment”

2010   Ami Radunskaya, “Mathematical Challenges in the Treatment of Cancer”

2009   Kate Okikiolu, “The Sum of Squares of Wavelengths of a Closed Surface”

2008   Rebecca Goldin, “The use and abuse of statistics in the media

2007   Katherine St. John, “Comparing Evolutionary Trees

2006   Trachette Jackson, “Cancer Modeling: From the Classical to the Contemporary”

2005   Fern Hunt, “Techniques for Visualizing Frequency Patterns in DNA”

2004   Bozenna Pasik-Duncan, “Mathematics Education of Tomorrow”

2003   Katherine P. Layton, “What I Learned in Forty Years in Beverly Hills 90212”

2002   Annie Selden, “Two Research Traditions Separated by a Common Subject: Mathematics and Mathematics Education”

2001   Pat Shure, “The Scholarship of Learning and Teaching: A Look Back and a Look Ahead”

2000   Audrey Terras, “Finite Quantum Chaos”

1999   Chuu-Lian Terng, “Geometry and Visualization of Surfaces”

1998   Margaret H. Wright, “The Interior-Point Revolution in Constrained Optimization”

1997   Suzanne M. Lenhart, “Applications of Optimal Control to Various Population Models”

1996   Karen E. Smith, “Calculus mod p”

Questions? Call 401-455-4042 or email