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A Brief Department History



Mathematics instruction at West Point began in 1801. William Barron taught a few Cadets of the Artillery and Engineers some of the fundamentals and practical applications of algebra. On 16 March, 1802, Congress established the United States Military Academy at West Point. The first acting Professors of Mathematics were Captains Jared Mansfield and William Barron. They taught the first few cadets algebra, geometry, and surveying.

In 1813 the distinguished scientist and surveyor Andrew Ellicott became Professor of Mathematics. Through the leadership of Sylvanus Thayer and the technical expertise of Ellicott, the Department of Mathematics combined the French theories with the practical methods of the English to establish a new model for America's program of undergraduate mathematics. This program of instruction in mathematics grew over several decades and was emulated by many other schools in the country.

Colonel Thayer recruited the famous French mathematician Claude Crozet who brought to America expertise in descriptive geometry, advanced mathematics, and fortification engineering. It was Crozet and other professors at USMA that first used the blackboard as the primary tool of instruction.

Charles Davies became the professor of Mathematics in 1823. Davies was a prolific author. His textbooks were used in schools throughout the country at all the levels from grade school to college. He had tremendous influence on the entire educational system of America throughout the 19th century. It was during Davies time as the Head of the Department of Mathematics that calculus was taught to all cadets and later used in the development of the science and engineering courses.

Albert Church succeeded Davies in 1837. Church was Professor of Mathematics at USMA for 41 years. He presided over a curriculum that produced many successful mathematicians and scientists. West Point graduates later filled positions as professors of mathematics or college presidents at schools such as the U.S. Naval Academy, the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Mississippi, Yale, Brown, Harvard, Columbia, and the Virginia Military Institute. The West Point model of undergraduate mathematics education was exported throughout the nation.

During the professorship of Harris Jones, West Point entered its first competition in mathematics. A mathematics challenge match between Harvard and USMA (Harvard/USMA math competition)was conducted in the spring of 1933. The West Point "mathletes" defeated Harvard in the competition that was the precursor to the national Putnam Competition. A few years later in 1944, the slide rule was used in all plebe mathematics classes.

Colonel William Bessell replaced Jones as Head of the Department in 1947. During Bessell's tenure, the old riding stable was converted into the Thayer Hall academic building. Under Bessell's direction, the mathematics classrooms at West Point were modernized with overhead projectors and mechanical computers. He was also instrumental in getting faculty members educated with advanced degrees from civilian universities and starting a computer center at West Point. Bessell transferred control of the Department of Mathematics to capable hands of Charles Nicholas in 1959. Nicholas had previously served as one of the organizers of the Central Intelligence Agency. He wrote a rigorous and comprehensive mathematics textbook, "the Green Death", that cadets used in their entire core mathematics program.

Professors John Dick and Jack Pollin guided the Department during the 1970s and 1980s. Their leadership kept the Academy at the forefront of undergraduate mathematics education. The calculator was introduced and used in all mathematics classes. The opportunities for cadets to major in mathematics and to study operations research were also introduced.

David Cameron was the Head of the Department from 1985-1988. Colonel Cameron directed a redesign of the curriculum to take advantage of computers in the classroom. Under his guidance a mathematics consulting element was established that allowed faculty members and students to support the research needs of the Army.

Frank Giordano was the Head of the Department from 1988-1995. He modernized the mathematics classrooms with mobile classroom computers with overhead display devices and advanced computational software. In 1990 the Department changed its name to the Department of Mathematical Sciences to reflect broader interests in applied mathematics, operations research, and computation.

David Arney was the nineteenth Department Head from 1995-2001. His areas of research interest in mathematics included applying mathematics to solving problems in science, numerical computing, the theory of numbers and their properties, network science, and the history of mathematics. Under Colonel Arney's leadership, the department continued the modernization of the classroom pedagogy. The use of the internet as a tool for mathematics was also introduced to aid the cadets in their studies. Arney was an advocate for interdisciplinary studies and tied the core mathematics courses to other core courses through the NSF-sponsored national initiative Project INTERMATH. Under Arney, civilian professors grew to over a third of the department and the department faculty played a larger role in Army research.

From 2001-2006, the twentieth Department Head, Gary Krahn, moved West Point's mathematics instruction through its bicentennial. Krahn's legacy was embedding modeling in all the core courses and formulizing undergraduate research as a viable component in the mathematics curriculum.

Through the leadership of Michael Phillips, the twenty-first Department Head who served from 2006-2016, the Department built outreach programs and focused on educational prinicples to ensure long-term learning and success.

The twenty-second Department Head, Steven Horton, served in that position from 2016 - 2018 and served a total of 22 years in the Department.  Horton was the initiator of many of the strategic changes supervised by the past four deparment heads including the Network Science Program, the Network Science Minor, Cadet Leader Development Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Program, the Center for Data Analysis and Statistics, and the Statistics Minor (the first minor offered at West Point).

The current USMA Department Head is Tina Hartley.

The Department of Mathematical Sciences, USMA, is very proud of the accomplishments of its faculty members and students. The USMA mathematics program has had great influence on mathematics education in America throughout its history. A complete history of the Department was published on the bicentennial of the Academy in 2002.