Dr. Robert Eugene Megginson
Arthur F. Thurman Professor
University of Michigan
Department of Mathematics
3087 East Hall, 530 Church Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1043
Term: 06/01/2014 - 05/31/2021
Robert Eugene Megginson grew up in a family that enjoyed and valued mathematics, which is certainly one of the reasons for his interest in the field. His Native American maternal grandfather never attended a day of formal school in his life, but was very well self-educated and a voracious reader of agricultural journals and books, doing all the bookkeeping himself to run a successful family farm. Megginson's interest in reading and numbers actually came from both sides of his family, since his father (whose family came to America from England in the early nineteenth century) was also a voracious reader and had a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics. All of this influenced his decision to go into mathematics.
However, Megginson did not do so immediately after getting his first college degree. After receiving his bachelor's degree in physics in 1969, he worked for eight years as a computer systems software specialist for Roper Corporation in Kankakee, Illinois, at the time a Fortune 500 corporation that primarily manufactured home appliances and lawn tractors. Before leaving to pursue his doctorate in mathematics, he had risen to a top position as computer systems software specialist, which put him in charge of almost all operating system software selection, development, and maintenance. Though this was an exciting and interesting position, he had come to know that his real love was mathematics, which was the reason for his decision in 1977 to return to college.
For the last quarter century, much of his interest and time have been absorbed by the problem of the serious underrepresentation of minorities in mathematics. One of very few Native Americans who are known to hold doctorates in mathematics, Megginson has served on and chaired numerous professional and national committees that address underrepresentation issues in STEM, including serving as chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Committee on Opportunities in Science, chair of the Coordinating Council for Human Resources of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), co-chair of the MAA's Committee on Minority Participation in Mathematics, and chair of the Human Resources Advisory Committee of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley (where he also served a term as Deputy Director of the Institute).
In addition to his committee and other advisory work on the underrepresentation problem, he has also spent much time working directly with students of color to help them succeed in mathematically-based fields. In the 1990s, he helped design and worked every summer in programs for precollege students at Turtle Mountain Community College, a tribal college of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Nation in North Dakota. The purpose of those programs was to keep Native American students in the educational pipeline leading to college degrees in mathematics and related fields, and the programs had significant success in doing exactly that. Megginson has
also mentored many undergraduate and graduate students of color from various backgrounds who have gone on to receive degrees in mathematically-based disciplines.
For his record of mentoring students of color and other work on underrepresentation, Megginson was one of ten individuals who received the 1997 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Among other recognitions for his work, he has been named to the Native American Science and Engineering Wall of Fame, maintained at Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, and was the 1999 recipient of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society's top recognition, the Ely S. Parker Award. He has also received the Etta Zuber Falconer Award from the Quality Education for Minorities Network and the MAA's Yueh-Gin Gung and Dr. Charles Y. Hu Service Award, and was selected for inclusion in 100 Native Americans Who Shaped American History (Bonnie Juettner, Bluewood Books, 2002). He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Mathematical Society.
Megginson is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Mathematics at the University of Michigan, where he has also served as Associate Dean for Undergraduate and Graduate Education in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. He lives in Ann Arbor with his wife Kathleen, to whom he has been married since 1978. Kathy is also a mathematician, holding a bachelor's degree in mathematics as well as a master's in computer science and an MBA. Now retired, she worked for several corporations as a computer systems analyst, including sixteen years with IBM in Springfield and Decatur, Illinois as a database specialist.
Megginson's publications include a Springer textbook on Banach space theory. His current mathematical interests are in the mathematics of climate change, and one of his passions is interesting other underrepresented minority scientists and students in addressing the problem of anthropogenic climate change and its already serious impact on the marginalized peoples of the Americas and the world.