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Nathanial Brown awarded 2017 Robinson Equal Opportunity Award

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12 May 2017

Nate BrownNathanial Brown, professor of mathematics at Penn State University, has been awarded the 2017 Dr. James Robinson Equal Opportunity Award. The award recognizes a full-time faculty or staff member who has promoted equal opportunity through affirmative action and/or has contributed to enhancing the educational environment of the University through improving cross-cultural understanding. The award, sponsored by the Penn State Alumni Association, was established in 1988 and renamed in 1998 to honor the late James Robinson, a distinguished alumnus and former member of the Alumni Council.

Brown has promoted diversity and inclusion at the university in a variety of ways. He regularly gives diversity-related talks in the mathematics department and hosts events aimed at understanding and improving issues related to diversity in STEM fields. These events include lunches to address stereotypes and town hall meetings where students and faculty can air concerns and offer ideas to improve climate and diversity. Brown reaches out to young people through YouTube videos and an active Department of Mathematics Facebook page. He is also involved in the Penn State Millennium Scholars program, which is designed for high-achieving STEM students who could become leaders in their chosen fields and who are committed to increasing diversity of professionals in STEM-related disciplines. Perhaps his broadest impact, however, results from administering stemfeminist.com, a website giving voice to the experiences of women in STEM fields. The site was launched in 2014 with then-undergrad Lilith Antinori and attracted nearly 6,500 visitors from around the globe in 2016.

Brown’s research focuses on fundamental questions of operator-algebra theory, an area of mathematics in which the basic objects are infinite matrices rather than, for example, numerical functions. Although these matrices have infinite dimensions, some operator algebras can be approximated by finite-dimensional spaces. Brown’s work has focused on “reducing” operator algebras to the finite-dimensional case. Together with colleagues from Texas A&M and the University Hawaii, Brown has developed the K-Computability Project, which provides a concrete plan to address some of the most important questions regarding this area of mathematics. As part of the project, the research team is developing an online whiteboard and videoconferencing application called MATHboard to improve remote collaboration by replicating the experience of face-to-face discussions around a chalkboard.

Brown’s dedication to diversity and teaching have been recognized on many occasions. In 2016, he was awarded $200,000 by the Eberly College of Science to continue diversity efforts. As part of this diversity initiative, Brown is investigating undergraduate student perceptions of themselves and of their instructors and how these perceptions relate to academic performance in an introductory math course, particularly among women. Brown was awarded the Eberly College of Science Climate and Diversity Award in 2014; the Penn State Donald C. Rung Distinguished Undergraduate Teaching Award in 2008; the University of California, Berkeley, Department of Mathematics Distinguished Teaching Award in 2000; and the Purdue University Department of Mathematics Graduate Teaching Award in 1998 and 1995. His research has been published in journals such as Acta Mathematica, Crelle’s Journal, and Advances in Mathematics.

Brown joined the faculty at Penn State as an assistant professor of mathematics in 2002, became associate professor in 2008, and full professor in 2013. Prior to joining the faculty at Penn State, Brown was an National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at Michigan State University from 2001 to 2002, an assistant professor of mathematics at Central Michigan University from 2001 to 2002, a postdoctoral fellow at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute from 2000 to 2001, a visiting assistant professor of mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2000, and a visiting researcher at Institut Henri Poincaré in Paris, France, in 1999. Brown earned a doctoral degree in mathematics at Purdue University in 1999 and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Lake Superior State University in 1993.

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