Gweneth Humphreys Award

2016 Winner: Naomi Jochnowitz


The Association for Women in Mathematics is pleased to present its sixth annual M. Gweneth Humphreys Award to Naomi Jochnowitz of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Rochester.

Dr. Jochnowitz has been a teacher and mentor for over forty years, devoting herself to the development and support of undergraduate students of mathematics, in addition to her activities with math graduate students and postdocs, with a particular impact on scores of women students. “She offers very demanding courses with the explicit assumption that everyone can succeed and she will provide all the support necessary for that outcome.”  Student letters, even from students more than thirty years ago, still vividly and passionately recount their experiences:  Dr. Jochnowitz’s students embark on a “math[ematical] journey” together with her, where she “sets high standards, treating even her youngest students like respected colleagues.”  Her courses are challenging, with exams “notoriously long and difficult,” but Dr. Jochnowitz is “fiercely devoted to teaching,” not leaving evening office hours until everyone’s questions have been answered, sometimes past midnight.  She “pushes her students to think smarter and achieve more.”

Dr. Jochnowitz is often cited as motivating young women to take challenging mathematics courses, directly confronting any insecurities or lack of confidence they may have. She encourages students to pursue summer opportunities and advanced degrees, checking in with them regularly after they graduate.  Many former students work to emulate her passion for teaching and nurturing students.  Dr. Jochnowitz cares deeply about her students, and she nurtures them “one student at a time.”

The AWM is proud to honor Naomi Jochnowitz’s outstanding achievements in inspiring undergraduate women to discover and pursue their passion for mathematics.

Response from Naomi Jochnowitz:

I thank the AWM for this Honor, plus Mike Gage, John Harper, and Tom Tucker for nominating me.  Seeing letters from so many former students has evoked beautiful memories, and I want to reiterate what every past Humphreys recipient has said in their own way, that “it is my students, not me, who deserve this award”.

Women of my generation were allowed to be good in math, but only if we firmly believed that we weren’t.  I know things are changing, but don’t know how fast.

Partly as a result of my own experiences, I feel a special affinity for creatively talented students unaware of their own strengths. I believe I have a kind of radar helping me detect such individuals, often recognizing their potential before others do.  I am happy to provide maximal support, since I know with the right encouragement, these students can develop the confidence needed to let their natural creativity shine through, often with rather spectacular results.  Sometimes (not always) these students are female, and I see glimpses of myself at a younger age in them.  By symmetry, such students identify with me, and I become a much appreciated role model/friend.

My students understand I am always on their side, and am not here to judge them, rather to encourage them to do their best.  They don’t have to prove to me how good they are.  Instead it is my responsibility to prove to them how good they can be! In doing this, I am simply repaying a debt for what others did for me.