CORNELL UNIVERSITY MEDIA RELATIONS OFFICE
FOR RELEASE: May 31, 2023
$5M gift establishes Arts and Sciences outreach professorship
ITHACA, N.Y. – Bolstering its commitment to broader engagement, the College of Arts and Sciences has established the Winokur Professorship for the Public Understanding of Science and Mathematics.
Distinguished mathematician, award-winning teacher and well-known science communicator Steven Strogatz has been appointed as the inaugural holder of the chair. The professorship, believed to be the first of its kind in the United States, is supported by a $5 million endowment and will offer dedicated time and support to enable the holder to focus on public outreach.
“Understanding and broadening public support for math and science have become ever more essential in this 21st century, and yet too many people feel intimidated and distant from both,” said Barton Winokur ’61, who with Susan Winokur endowed the chair. “It is our hope that this professorship will help bridge that gap.”
“Professor Strogatz has already demonstrated his ability to engage and indeed fascinate people at all levels of knowledge. He is already well-known for his popular books, podcasts and New York Times articles; this chair will enable him to share his insights and enthusiasm even more widely,” said Susan Winokur ’61.
“The Winokur Professorship extends the remarkable legacy of Carl Sagan and other legendary Arts and Sciences faculty, and doubles down on our deep and enduring commitment to broader engagement,” said Ray Jayawardhana, the Harold Tanner Dean of Arts and Sciences, who has made meaningful public engagement a key priority for the college. “I am truly grateful to Bart and Susan for their visionary gift that will magnify Cornell’s impact on the world.”
Strogatz has long been active as an emissary of math to general audiences and believes that math should also be offered to everyone as a part of our culture in basic appreciation classes, just as music, art and psychology are.
A recent appearance on the Freakonomics Network had an unexpected outcome: after it aired, Lindsey Henderson, the secondary math specialist for the Utah Board of Education, contacted Strogatz to ask him to advise Utah during the forthcoming standards review to modernize its math curriculum – an urgent problem, given that math is the most frequently failed high school class.
“A math appreciation course could fit in, showing students how to use quantitative skills to be an engaged citizen,” said Henderson. “You don’t have to know how to factor a quadratic equation but you should know the big ideas behind it, and that’s what Steve is so good at.”
This year also marks the 25th anniversary of Strogatz’s legendary paper with his then-doctoral student Duncan Watts on “small-world” networks, which has been cited more than 51,000 times.
For additional information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.