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Joel Brawley

Brawley1The Department of Mathematical Sciences is particularly proud of faculty who demonstrate excellence in scholarship, service and teaching. Perhaps one of the best examples is Joel Brawley. The adjacent picture shows Dr. Brawley giving then Governor Jim Hodges some pointers in mathematics when Brawley received the South Carolina Governor's Professor of the Year award in 2001.

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 with applications to cryptography. His minor concentration was 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, a Professor in 1972 and he was named an Alumni Distinguished Professor in 1982. He retired from full-time teaching in 2006, but continued to teach a single course each semester through 2012.

He had three sabbatical leaves, first at N.C. State and Duke University (1971-1972) where he worked with Professor Levine and Professor Leonard Carlitz, second at the University of Tennessee (1979-1980) where he worked with Professors Robert McConnell and Robert Plemmons, and third for a semester at Clemson (1988) to finish a book “Infinite Algebraic Extensions of Finite Fields” that was published by the American Mathematical Society in 1989.

Dr. Brawley taught both undergraduate and graduate courses throughout his career; also he often taught evening courses for in-service masters students in mathematics education. He was probably best known and admired for his teaching of linear and abstract algebra and probability and combinatorial mathematics and for designing and giving a seminar course on “Preparing for College Teaching in the Mathematical Sciences” (which was offered to students completing their PhD work). He worked on grants and contracts from the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, FIPSE, and DEMSEA. In addition, each summer from 1995 until 2014 he taught a six-week Math Excellence Workshop (MEW) for minority students in science and engineering who were taking the beginning engineering calculus course under another professor. He directed the research of 29 MS degree students and 7 PhD degree students.

Joel published over sixty referred research papers in the areas of algebra, cryptography, mathematics education, and the history of mathematics as well as a number of classified publications. He was a consultant for the National Security Agency for 36 years (1975-2010) and he spent several summer months in California - at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1986 and at the Institute for Defense Analysis in 1988. He has given invited presentations at over 100 colleges, often as an MAA Visiting Lecturer, and he has given over 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 committees in the department, college and university. 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 in the Southeast.

Selected awards include:

  • Alumni Distinguished Professor (1982-present)
  • Visiting Lectures Panel, Mathematics Association of America (1968-1998)
  • 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)
  • Mathematical Association of America’s Distinguished Service Award (2007)
  • Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Scientists and Engineers (2007)

Joel was married for fifty years to Frances Owen Brawley who passed away in 2010, just seven months after she received the honor of being named “Tiger Brotherhood’s 2009 Mother of the Year”.  They had three children: Albert Vincent Brawley, Daniel Owen Brawley and Frances Ann Barnes. His hobbies are golf, exercising, and classical and folk guitar. Joel is an active member of the Clemson United Methodist Church where he has sung in the choir for many years.

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 Joel’s work 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 Brevard College, 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) and former 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 served as an MEW tutor 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 folk and classical guitar and over the years he composed lyrics for many Clemson related songs that he has performed at faculty retirement parties, alumni chapter meetings and for student groups (e.g., during the last class of each semester). In 2014, with assistance from emeritus professor of Mathematical Sciences Dr. Brad Russell, Dr. Brawley produced a CD entitled “Reflections on Clemson Through Story and Song”.  This CD contains 12 songs related to Clemson and each song is preceded by a story giving the history of the song.  All proceeds for this CD go to the Clemson Alumni Association and at this writing the CD is still available for a nominal price at the Clemson Alumni Center.

The following is an example of one of the songs:



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

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."

Under Walter Riggs and Bob Edward and other great CEO’s,
This University just grew and grew and grew,
To serve this world so well with graduates who excel,
Good 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.

Joe Sherman and Bob Bradley, and thousands 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.

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

The phrase “Tell the people that you saw us passing through …” appears on his and his wife’s gravestone in Woodland Cemetery (better known as Cemetery Hill) near the football stadium.

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