Louise Hay Award

2006 Winner: Patricia Clark Kenschaft


In recognition of her long career of dedicated service to mathematics and mathematics education, the AWM is pleased to present the Sixteenth Annual Louise Hay Award to Patricia Clark Kenschaft of Montclair State University. Trained as a functional analyst (Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1973), Pat Kenschaft found her true calling, not only in teaching university-level mathematics, but also in writing about, speaking about, and working for mathematics and mathematics education in the areas of K-12 education, the environment, affirmative action and equity, and public awareness of the importance of mathematics in society.

The wide scope of her interests and influence are evidenced by the titles of her published books and articles. Regarding equity, affirmative action, and the promotion of women and minorities in mathematics, she has written Change is Possible: Stories of Women and Minorities in Mathematics (AMS, 2005) and edited and/or contributed chapters to Winning Women into Mathematics (MAA, 1991), Complexities: Women in Mathematics (Princeton University Press, 2005), and Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. With Catherine Wick, she wrote the chapter “Multicultural and Gender Equity in the Mathematics Classroom” (1997 NCTM Yearbook), detailing a series of “micro-inequity skits,” based on real-life experiences, which point out in a good-natured way the sorts of small injustices that may occur daily to females in mathematics.

In the 1980s, Kenschaft surveyed black mathematicians in New Jersey and asked, “What can be done to bring more blacks into mathematics?” The most common answer was, “Teach mathematics better to all American children. The way it is now, if children don’t learn mathematics at home, they don’t learn it at all, so any ethnic group that is underrepresented in mathematics will remain so until children are taught mathematics better in elementary school.” These results led Kenschaft to found and direct PRIMES, the Project for Resourceful Instruction of Mathematics in the Elementary School, which was supported by 14 Eisenhower grants and served teachers in nine urban and suburban schools. As a result of her work on this project, Kenschaft developed the book Math Power: How to Help Your Child Love Mathematics Even If You Don’t, and, in order to encourage other mathematicians to play a more active role in teacher education, she wrote the February 2005 AMS Notices article, “Racial Equity Requires Teaching Elementary Teachers More Mathematics.” Kenschaft has also promoted a broader understanding of the nature and importance of mathematics through her call-in radio show, Math Medley, which she hosted for six years and which was an innovative way of bringing experts on mathematics, mathematics education, and the environment in contact with the general public.

The final important set of contributions made by Kenschaft broadens our knowledge and understanding of the environment. Through her textbook Mathematics for Human Survival, her volume Environmental Mathematics (coedited with Ben Fusaro), and her work for the MAA Special Interest Group on Environmental Mathematics, she has helped to raise understanding of the effects of human activity on the earth. Closer to home, she works to raise awareness of environmental issues and promote local food, and she grows her family’s vegetables without pesticides. A colleague wrote, “Her influence has been crucial to the emerging presence of environmental mathematics, that combination of the most critical challenge of our time and the most powerful technology of our time.”

One of Kenschaft’s insights is that problems-sexism, racism, environmental degradation, and poor teaching-are often caused by systems, rather than individuals, and that damaging individual behavior is often unconscious and may even be well-intentioned. While chair of the MAA Committee on the Participation of Women, she wrote, “I believe that in the late twentieth century we are all guilty of sexism, even those of us trying hardest to overcome the problem. The continual observations of my own teen-age son with the undimmed vision and precise tongue so characteristic of youth relieved me of any illusions that I might be an exception.”

As one of her colleagues wrote, She deserves to be recognized for her decades of dedication to mathematics and math education and for her innovative and unique contributions in these areas. In particular, her special attention to children and their parents, women, minorities, and the environment, all with respect to mathematics, have been and continue to be of benefit for the mathematical community and our society as a whole.

Response from Patricia Kenschaft:

I am, of course, delighted and deeply honored with this award. It is probably the award that means most to me. This citation makes me feel understood. I am especially glad that its author observed my dedication to changing systems, not people – although, like every good teacher, I do enjoy affecting individual people.

I myself have been especially fortunate in the systems in which I found myself – family, neighborhood, schools, and socio-economic systems. Yes, I have worked hard, but so has every other person who has earned a doctorate in mathematics. Yes, I have loved mathematics, but so have many others, and we are a fortunate group.

I was especially fortunate to have been born into a loving family that wanted me to experience as much of life as possible. Both my father and mother’s father supported their women in reaching for the highest. Before I started kindergarten, my father explained the concept of ð to me. During a lunch in second grade, my mother showed me how using x to represent “any number” could help me understand why a math puzzle “worked.” When I asked her in fifth grade what “algebra” was, she suggested we find the encyclopedia, and we went through the entire description there while she did the ironing. My first grade teachers sat me in the back of the room with the two slowest students, thereby starting my love of teaching.

Belle Kearney, my ninth grade algebra teacher, was not angry that I already knew the subject when I came to her. She lent me her “college algebra” text and offered to meet with me once a week to go over my questions. A few years later, she won a fellowship to earn a doctorate, and then died of breast cancer.

She was my last female math teacher, but I can’t remember any math teacher in high school, college, or graduate school who ever implied that I couldn’t succeed because of my sex. I have continued to meet amazingly wonderful men and women in both my personal and professional lives. Lee Lorch mentored my equity writing. Lou Giglio, a high school math teacher, phoned the dean at Montclair State and asked for a collaborator to start a program supporting elementary school teachers mathematically, thereby beginning a great seven-year adventure. Ben Fusaro reached out to me with a variety of activities in environmental mathematics. Fred Chichester, my husband of thirty years, has shared my love of math and always supported my aspirations.

There is much still to do, but I have been repeatedly fortunate. Why not others? I wish that every person in my infant grandson’s generation could be supported by a culture that is nurturing, equitable, and environmentally safe and sustainable. It might be possible if we all try. I am deeply grateful for this recognition that I have tried.