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James Donaldson

Mathematician James A. Donaldson was born in 1941 on a farm in Madison County, Florida as one of eleven children to parents Audrey Brown and Oliver Donaldson. After graduating from high school, Donaldson enrolled at Lincoln University near Oxford, Pennsylvania in 1957 and graduated from there in 1961 with his A.B. degree in mathematics. Donaldson continued his studies at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where he received his M.S. degree in mathematics in 1963, and his Ph.D. degree in mathematics in 1965.

Upon graduation, Donaldson served as professor of mathematics at Southern University, Howard University, the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the University of New Mexico. In addition, Donaldson was appointed as a visiting professor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Science at the University of Victoria in Canada, the University of Ferrara in Italy, and Duke University in North Carolina. In 1972, Donaldson was named chairman of Howard University Department of Mathematics. During his tenure there, Donald oversaw the hiring of new tenured-faculty and the development and inauguration of the first Ph.D. degree-granting mathematics program at a Historically Black College and University.

Donaldson has served on committees of several professional mathematics and science organizations. He is a member of the Council of the American Mathematical Society, served as the second vice president of the Mathematical Association of America, and was the editor of the newsletter of the National Association of Mathematicians. Donaldson’s research interests include the history of mathematics and mathematics accessibility issues and he has published more than fifty research papers, articles and presentations in these areas as well.

Donaldson served as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, the National Research Council, the Sloan Foundation, the Educational Testing Service, several state boards of Education, many mathematics departments, and the District of Columbia Public School System. He received the Lincoln University Alumni Achievement Award in 1986, and was the National Institute of Science’s memorial lecturer in 1989.

Donaldson passed away on October 18, 2019.

James A. Donaldson was interviewed by March 28, 2013.

Accession Number

A2013.087

Sex

Male

Archival Photo 1
Interview Date

3/28/2013

Last Name

Donaldson

Maker Category
Middle Name

Ashley

Occupation
Schools

Jeslamb School

Madison County Training School

Lincoln University

University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign

Search Occupation Category
First Name

James

Birth City, State, Country

Madison County

HM ID

DON03

Favorite Season

Spring

State

Florida

Favorite Quote

I'm still kickin'.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date

4/17/1941

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

USA

Favorite Food

All Food

Death Date

10/18/2019

Short Description

Mathematician James Donaldson (1941 - 2019) served as the chairman of the the Howard University Department of Mathematics where he established the first Ph.D. degree-granting mathematics program at a Historically Black College and University.

Employment

Howard University

Lincoln University

University of New Mexico

University of Illinois, Chicago

Favorite Color

Black

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of James Donaldson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - James Donaldson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - James Donaldson talks about his mother and her family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - James Donaldson describes his father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - James Donaldson talks about his father and his work on his family's farm

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - James Donaldson talks about his parents getting married in the early 1920s

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - James Donaldson talks about his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - James Donaldson talks about his parents' and his Uncle Enoch's influence on his upbringing and his early education

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - James Donaldson describes his earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - James Donaldson describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up - part one

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - James Donaldson describes the sights, sounds and smells of growing up - part two

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - James Donaldson talks about the quality of his early education

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - James Donaldson talks about Jeslamb School

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - James Donaldson talks about his teachers at Jeslamb School

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - James Donaldson talks about listening to the radio while growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - James Donaldson talks about his teachers and his academic performance in high school

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - James Donaldson talks about his experience in high school

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - James Donaldson talks about his pre-college counseling, graduating from high school, and his father's death

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - James Donaldson talks about his teacher, Mr. Scott, and his interest in working as an electrician

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - James Donaldson talks about his visit to Washington, D.C. during high school

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - James Donaldson talks about being hazed upon his arrival at Lincoln University

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - James Donaldson talks about his preparation for college and his academic performance there

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - James Donaldson talks about his clumsiness in the science lab and his decision to major in mathematics

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - James Donaldson talks about his math studies, his professors, and his peers at Lincoln University

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - James Donaldson talks about his decision to pursue graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - James Donaldson talks about his problems with finding a place to stay upon his initial arrival at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - James Donaldson talks about African American mathematicians and his peers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC)

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - James Donaldson explains the concept of differential equations

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - James Donaldson describes an example of a differential equation

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - James Donaldson talks about mathematical problems

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - James Donaldson talks about his Ph.D. advisor, Ray Langebartel, and his teacher, Professor Dube

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - James Donaldson talks about his struggles in graduate school and the nature of research in mathematics

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - James Donaldson talks about his experience working at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's (UIUC) Computer Center

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - James Donaldson talks about his experience working at Howard University during the Civil Rights Movement

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - James Donaldson talks about his colleagues and his experience working at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - James Donaldson talks about the Annual Meeting of the American Mathematics Society

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - James Donaldson talks about his memories of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination and his participation in anti-war protesting

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - James Donaldson talks about his decision to leave the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - James Donaldson talks about his postdoctoral research at the University of New Mexico

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - James Donaldson talks about returning to Howard University and publishing in the Cambridge Philosophical Society

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - James Donaldson talks about being a founding member of the Association for Women in Mathematics

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - James Donaldson talks about the development of Howard University's doctoral program in mathematics

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - James Donaldson talks about the supporters of Howard University's graduate program expansion efforts

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - James Donaldson talks about balancing his responsibilities as chair with his research activities

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - James Donaldson talks about his mathematical teaching philosophy

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - James Donaldson explains a Cauchy problem as a differential equation

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - James Donaldson talks about his organizational affiliations

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - James Donaldson talks about the attendees of the First Pan African Congress of Mathematicians

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - James Donaldson talks about his professional activities - part one

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - James Donaldson talks about his experience in Italy

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - James Donaldson talks about his professional activities - part two

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - James Donaldson talks about the Mathematical Association of America and the American Mathematical Society

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - James Donaldson talks about Abdulalim Shabazz

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - James Donaldson talks about becoming acting president of Lincoln University and receiving a traveling award from the National Science Foundation (NSF)

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - James Donaldson talks about Patrick Swygert's role in his appointment as the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University

Tape: 7 Story: 9 - James Donaldson talks about becoming the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard University

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - James Donaldson talks about his educational initiatives for Howard University - part one

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - James Donaldson talks about his educational initiatives for Howard University - part two

Tape: 8 Story: 3 - James Donaldson talks about his colleague, Jeff Donaldson, and his involvement in developing the Afro-American Studies program

Tape: 8 Story: 4 - James Donaldson talks about Elbert F. Cox and the importance of scientists knowing the history of their field

Tape: 8 Story: 5 - James Donaldson talks about his research interests, and the integration of mathematics and the life sciences

Tape: 8 Story: 6 - James Donaldson reflects upon how he treated his students when he first started teaching

Tape: 8 Story: 7 - James Donaldson reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 8 Story: 8 - James Donaldson talks about his views on research

Tape: 8 Story: 9 - James Donaldson shares his hopes for mathematical-related fields

Tape: 8 Story: 10 - James Donaldson talks about his family

Tape: 8 Story: 11 - James Donaldson talks about how he would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

3$6

DAStory

6$3

DATitle
James Donaldson talks about his clumsiness in the science lab and his decision to major in mathematics
James Donaldson talks about the development of Howard University's doctoral program in mathematics
Transcript
Now what did you decide to major in when you first got to Lincoln [University]?$$Well when I first went to Lincoln, I was not sure; I thought that I was going to do pre-medicine because I'd heard people talk about pre-medicine but when I went to the biology class and they had--as part of the experiments you had to do was to dissect this frog that had been preserved in formaldehyde. I decided, you know, that there had to be something else, so I just sort of went--I went and changed that and so I looked at engineering for a while because they had this cooperative agreement with--I wanna say Lehigh University [Bethlehem, Pennsylvania]--no, Lafayette College in [Easton] Pennsylvania. Lincoln had a cooperative agreement so you do three years at Lincoln, two years at Lafayette, and you get a degree in engineering and a degree in liberal arts. And so I was interested in engineering so I did that for about a semester but that didn't work out well and again, it was the laboratory thing that just fell down.$$What was the problem with the laboratory?$$Well, you had to go out on these field trips; you had to go out on these field trips and one Saturday morning--and I think I probably will remember this until the day I die--we had to go out and it had rained a lot the week before. On a Saturday, we had to go out to look at some rock stratifications along the Chesapeake Bay Canal that connects the Chesapeake Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. It's up in Delaware; it's not too far from Lincoln, so just a bus trip; and we were supposed to go out and look at this and we went out there and--now my professor, Professor Rasmussen, really nice man, he was equipped; everything was equipped. He had on these rubber boots and all of this stuff and here I was out there, you know, with sneakers on and my classmates we were similarly equipped, and all of that mud and stuff we were sloshing around in. And so by the end of the day, everyone was tired and, you know, all wet and dirty, and I remember being so tired I saw this little small pool of water and ordinarily I would have tried to go around it or jump across it but I was just so tired I said I'm just gonna walk--I'm wet already, I might as well walk through this water. So I walked through this water and there was a hole, and I came up--water came up to my chest. So when they got me out of that, I knew then that my engineering days were over. So when I got back to the school, I went to see my advisor and told him "Well look, that's it with the engineering." And Professor Rasmussen tried to talk me out of it; he said "You know, you can do it, you can do it," but I just could not see that there was much of a career for me in that kind of area if that was what I had to do afterwards. Now of course if I had been dressed as he was, it probably wouldn't have been as bad. And so then Lincoln said "You've got to choose." They said "You've got to pick something." My better grades were in the sciences and mathematics and the chemistry again, I loved it. But the laboratory (laughter) just how I say it, the laboratory--did not know whether to put the water into the acid or the acid into the water. And the two--the operations do not commute. So one you get an explosion, you know. Thing say Pow!!! If you put the--$$So did you get it wrong, or did you--$$Oh, a couple of times I got it wrong (laughter). Put the water in the acid--Pow!! So I messed a couple of pair of pants; I only had about three or four pair, and that's all together so, you know, I just couldn't stay there, and I think the chemistry professor was a really good guy--Professor Rudd. I think he sort of agreed that I made the right decision (laughter). He agreed I made the right decision. So I went into mathematics which I say "Well this is what I choose as a major," but didn't know whether I was gonna work in it or not but I decided to choose that as a major because I had to choose something.$So at Howard University--Professor of Mathematics at Howard. Had they planned--well, when you got to Howard, did they--how soon was it before a plan was developed to create a PhD in Mathematics at Howard?$$I guess I got it--I arrived at Howard in 1971. In 1972, I was appointed, you know, Chair of the Mathematics Department and it was around that time that the president of the University, James E. Cheek, talked about expanding, you know, the graduate offerings, you know, in mathematics here. And so it was shortly after 1972--around probably 1973, I have one of the earl proposals--draft proposal, you know, for the doctorate, and I think that's 1973.$$Okay. Alright. So you came back, or you were invited back to Howard basically by a new administration, right?$$By a new administration, right.$$James E. Cheek.$$James Cheek, right.$$Okay. And he took over from James Nabrit.$$Right.$$So some of the things that you did at Howard since you came here, you developed both short-range and long-range programs for the Math Department, right? Strengthened the Mathematics Department faculty, wrote a proposal to offer PhD program; that's in '73 [1973], right?$$Right.$$And (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous)--It was around '73 [1973]; I'm not really sure. Seventy-three [1973], '72 [1972], '73 [1973], around there, but I think it was '73 [1973].$$Okay. And what was the university's thinking? That Howard was not really--had not really fulfilled its potential in mathematics before, or what?$$Well no, I think it was the vision of President Cheek, and he felt that, you know, that a first-rate university should have a strong mathematics program. I know that he was a visionary in that sense so I--but not only that, but in the other sciences as well. But physics and chemistry already had doctorates in mathematics, you know, at the time--physics and chemistry. In fact, chemistry was first and then I think shortly after that, there was physics.$$Okay.$$So it was just the president--it was part of the president's vision.$$Alright, so what did establishing a PhD program entail? What did you have to do?$$Well, first of all, as all new programs are concerned, there is a process that one has to go through involving getting the approvals at different levels. First, the graduate school; well, the graduate school has to approve the proposal, and then once that is done, getting the support from the different administrative offices, you know, at the university. But in our case, it was easier in the sense that the dean of the graduate school, this was Edward Hawthorne, the dean of the graduate school, was supportive of the program and of course the main support was from the president of the university.