Friends of the University

It is very sad and unusual to lose an active member of the faculty during the academic year, and so I acknowledge the passing of Jean Pedersen of our department of Mathematics and Computer Science. Jean arrived at Santa Clara in 1972 and made this her academic home.  Jean was a popular professor and the author of 214 research papers, reviews and pedagogical works, 13 books, 3 translations, and 8 videos. She touched many lives, as I heard at her funeral from her departmental colleagues and from present students and alumni. As a member of our Santa Clara family, we remember her with deep appreciation.


It is with sadness that I announce the death of longtime math professor Jean Pedersen, who died on January 1 with her family by her side. Our hearts go out to Professor Pedersen’s children, Jenni and Chris, for such a loss, and one so soon after their father’s passing. Professor Pedersen was a true pillar of the University and of its math department. Known for her kindness in welcoming newcomers to the University and her collegiality among her fellow faculty, she had a great love for Santa Clara University and a passion for teaching math. 

Professor Pedersen began her teaching career at Santa Clara in 1966 when she became the first woman to teach mathematics here. She later became the first woman to be granted tenure in the Mathematics Department. A published author, guest lecturer for numerous professional programs and associations, and generous member of the University community, she modeled the best of the teaching scholar. Santa Clara University has lost a leading light in Professor Pedersen, and while we mourn her loss, we remember the great gift of her life.   


Jean J. Pedersen, a long-time professor of mathematics at Santa Clara, died on New Year’s Day 2016 in a Los Gatos hospital after a long series of medical problems. She was born into a family in Provo, Utah; her father was an ophthalmologist, her mother a teacher. She had a younger brother who became an architect in Seattle, and a son and daughter, Chris a Silicon Valley engineer and Jennifer, who teaches mathematics at Utah Valley University in Orem. She had six grandchildren. 

Jean attended college at Brigham Young University where, given the culture of that time, she majored initially in home economics, only later discovering the beauty of mathematics. So thus motivated when she moved to the University of Utah at Salt Lake City for graduate study, she switched to mathematics. Ultimately she wrote a thesis on algebra under the direction of E. Allen Davis, a well-known mathematician at the University. There she had as a student in one of her classes, an engineering major, Kent Pedersen, whom she later married. Soon after their marriage and Kent’s accepting a position at IBM, they moved to San Jose where they remained. Kent died roughly one year before Jean’s death.

After starting a family, Jean joined the Santa Clara University mathematics faculty initially teaching only part-time. Proving herself to be such a spectacularly good teacher, she was transferred to being full-time and eventually to the rank of full professor by 1996. Under the guidance of the legendary mathematician and teacher, George Polya, at Stanford University and later a long series of collaborations with the internationally known British topologist, Peter J. Hilton, Jean performed mathematical research, writing and speaking on polyhedral geometry, combinatorics,and number theory. Hilton had held positions at Oxford, Cambridge, Case Western Reserve, and Cornell, and had been one of the mathematicians that cracked the enigma code at Bletchley Park, led by Alan Turing. 

Pedersen’s list of publications runs to 214 research papers, reviews and pedagogical works, 13 books, 3 translations, and 8 videotapes. Others await publication. She was eventually to become an Erskine Fellow at the University of Christ Church in New Zealand, a repeated visitor at the University of Capetown in South Africa, and a repeated short-term visitor at the Forschungs Institut für Mathematikc at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule/Zurich. 

A populist lecturer, Jean was often asked to speak at meetings from departmental colloquia to regional meetings to international congresses. These talks spread from the Bay Area to Australia, Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Kuala Lumpur, Delft, Haifa, and many other locations. These presentations often led to collaborators in mathematics (Glenn Appleby, Astrid Bonning, James H. Foster, Walter Gross, Michael Hendy, Bruce Love, Larry Somer, Jurgen Stigter, Tibor Tarnai, Byron Walden, Hans Walser, Tamsen Whitehead); in mathematics education (Franz O. Armbruster, Diane Mendence, E. Allen Davis, Derek Holton, George Polya, Peter Ross, Martin Gardner); general mathematics (Youseff Alavi, Ronald Graham) and algebra (Tibor Tarnai, Carlos Sequin). 

Jean was a member of numerous MAA and Association of Women in Mathematics, was a one-time member of the Editorial Board of Mathematics Magazine, and was a pioneer director of a “Women and Mathematics” lecture series to attract women into mathematics majors. She was the advisor of our own chapter of AWM. 

Jean always gave people the impression that being on the mathematics faculty, as teacher, advisor, and friend, was a profession that is just as good as it gets. And as members of the faculty in mathematics at Santa Clara, having Jean as a colleague, we feel that that’s just as good as it gets!


08 Nov 2018