Department of Mathematical Sciences

History of Mathematical Sciences at Clemson University

Joel Brawley


The Department of Mathematical Sciences is particularly proud of faculty who demonstrate excellence in scholarship, service and in teaching. Perhaps one of the best examples is Joel Brawley who was recently designated as South Carolina Governor's Professor of the Year. The picture below shows Dr. Brawley giving the Governor some pointers in mathematics.

Joel Vincent Brawley Jr. was born in Mooresville, NC in 1938, graduated from Mooresville High School in 1956, entered North Carolina State and earned a BS degree in 1960, an MS degree in 1962 and a PhD degree in 1964. His major Professor was Jack Levine and his dissertation was in the area of abstract algebra (his minor concentration was in statistics). After teaching as an Instructor at N.C. State in 1964-1965, he became an Assistant Professor at Clemson University in 1965, an Associate Professor in 1968, and a Professor in 1972. He had three sabbatical leaves, first at N.C. State and Duke University (1971-1972) where he worked with Professor Levine and Professor Lenoard Carlitz, second at the University of Tennessee (1979-1980) where he worked with Robert McConnell and Robert Plemmons, and third for a semester at Clemson to finish a book that was published by the American Mathematical society.

Dr. Brawley has taught both undergraduate and graduate courses throughout his career. He is probably best known and admired for his teaching in linear and abstract algebra, in the probability courses and for designing and giving a seminar course on Preparing for College Teaching in the Mathematical Sciences (which is given to students completing their PhD work). He has worked on grants and contracts from the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, FIPSE, and DEMSEA. In addition he has worked in the Math Excellence Workshop for 7 years helping beginning minority science and engineering students in their first calculus course. He has directed 29 master's degree student papers and 7 PhD degree student dissertations.

Joel has published over sixty research papers mainly in the area of algebra, cryptography and mathematics education. He has been a consultant for the National Security Agency for over 25 years and has spent summer terms at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Institute for Defense Analysis. He has given invited presentations at over 100 colleges, often as an MAA Visiting Lecturer, and given nearly fifty conference presentations.

Joel has performed many, many services for Clemson University. These include: serving as Acting Head of the Mathematical Sciences department for (1977-1978), being Chair of the Graduate Affairs in the Mathematical Sciences Department (1969-1971) and serving on many other committees in the Department. He was also Honors and Awards Day Speaker for the College (twice), on the COES Educational Futures Committee, in the Faculty Senate, and on the University Strategic Planning Committee. Over the years he has had many speaking engagements for the Alumni Association at various Chapter meetings located mostly in South Carolina.

Selected awards:

  • Alumni Distinguished Professor (1982-present)
  • Class of 39 Award for Excellence (1990-1991, selected by faculty and is the Clemson's most prestigious award for faculty excellence)
  • Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics (1999) (the nation's highest teaching award for college mathematics teachers: given by Mathematical Association of America)
  • Commencement Speaker at the University of Illinois, Springfield (2001)
  • South Carolina Governor's Professor of the Year (2001)
  • Baccalaureate Speaker, Mooresville High School in N.C. (his alma mater; 2002)

Joel is married to Frances Owen Brawley and has three children: Albert Vincent Brawley, Daniel Owen Brawley and Frances Ann Barnes. His hobbies are golf, swimming, classical and folk guitar. The Brawleys are active members of the Clemson United Methodist Church.

The following is taken from a letter that Clemson President James Barker received in 2001 from the Director of the National Security Agency (General Michael Hayden) concerning the work Joel is performing at the NSA. "The National Security Agency extends its most sincere appreciation to Dr. Joel Brawley of Clemson University for his commitment to bring the full power of modern mathematics to bear of problems of critical importance to our nation. Recently Dr. Brawley played a central role in the solution of one of the most difficult technical problems facing the National Security Agency. The problem was widely believed to be completely intractable, but a dedicated group of mathematicians in our Mathematical Research Office stepped up to the challenge ... . This achievement will have a dramatic effect on our signals intelligence missions for many years. Dr. Brawley has been an expert mathematical consultant to the National Security Agency for over two decades, and is famous for his ability to rapidly identify and solve the mathematical problems at the core of complex technical challenges ... ."

Charles Wallis (Clemson University MS, PhD), currently a professor at Western Carolina University, wrote "Joel also cultivates friendships with students in off-campus settings. He and his wife Fran were sponsors of the 'Young Adult Sunday School Class' to which I belonged while I lived in Clemson. I have fond memories of the many Sunday School parties at their house."

Tim Teitloff (Clemson University BS, MS, PhD), chair of mathematics at Anderson College wrote, "My relation with him ranges all the way from undergraduate student to doctoral advisee. He has always been and still is my foremost mathematics mentor. ... I am not the only one with so much enthusiasm for Dr. Brawley -- he is very popular among graduate students, some of whom will take anything so long as he is teaching it."

Christina Daniels (Clemson University BS in Chemical Engineering and one of Joel's 1996 MEW students who later served as his MEW in 1998 wrote "Seminars with Dr. Brawley were never boring: he was always enthusiastic about teaching and genuinely interested in the progress of every student. Patience, compassion and enthusiasm are among his virtues. Working as his assistant to tutor other MEW students in July 1998 was like witnessing Dr. Brawley's never-ending role as a mentor and facilitator."

After coming to Clemson Joel learned to play the guitar and over the years he has composed lyrics for many Clemson related songs that he has performed relating at faculty retirement parties, alumni chapter meetings and in for student groups (sometimes in a class). The following is an example:



I was with ole Tom Clemson 'bout a week before he died,
I said, "Tom with all this land whatcha gonna do?"
He said, "Leave it for a college, young folks can come get knowledge.
It'll help our people as they're passing through."

From Jim Barker back to Bob Edwards, and presidents before,
This University is truly on the move,
"Public College of the Year" and we're shifting to high gear-
Thanks to Clemson people who are passing through.

I saw Howard in the Valley, one day before a game.
I said, "Frank what can that piece of old rock do?"
"Make my boys into men, and maybe help us git a win,
You gotta play the game hard while you're passing through."

I was sitting in my office one autumn afternoon,
And thinking of good Clemson folk I knew.
They work hard to make a living and they just keep on giving,
A legacy to those passing through.

Walter Cox and Philip Prince, and hundreds just like them
"Why do you tigers step up like you do?"
There is something in these hills, that within our soul instills,
A dream for those who'll soon be passing through.

Passing through, passing through,
Sometime happy, sometimes blue, glad that I ran into you.
Tell the people that you saw me passing through.

Adapted from a 1948 folk song by Dick Blakeslee, Words by Joel Brawley

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