Melvin Henriksen, Professor of Mathematics Emeritus at HMC, Dies

Melvin Henriksen, professor of mathematics emeritus at Harvey Mudd College, died on Oct. 14 at the age of 82. Henriksen came to HMC in 1969 as the chair of the mathematics department and continued working there until 1997, when he retired from teaching. Even after he retired, however, he remained an active member of the HMC mathematics community.Henriksen was best known for his work in algebra and topology, and has published work in numerous journals. He also co-wrote Single Variable Calculus, the first calculus textbook to introduce teaching calculators into calculus.Henriksen graduated from the City College of New York with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics in 1948. After that, he went on to receive his master’s and PhD from the University of Wisconsin.Before arriving at HMC, Henriksen taught at Case Western University, Purdue University, Wayne State University, the University of Alabama, and the University of Wisconsin. He also served as a visiting professor at Wesleyan University while he was a faculty member at HMC.Hank Krieger, a professor of mathematics who began working at HMC a year before Henriksen arrived, said Henriksen’s New York background was a defining characteristic.“He was the quintessential New Yorker,” Krieger said. “I think a lot of his nature and character was based on him growing up in New York. It was a multicultural environment, and he really liked that. He empathized with people from different backgrounds and different groups and he liked to stand up for the underdog.”Although Krieger and Henriksen never collaborated on research together because of their different fields of expertise, they often taught separate sections of the same class at HMC and worked together on outlining the courses they both taught. Working alongside Henriksen allowed Krieger to witness and appreciate the significant contributions that Henriksen made to the mathematics community.“He continued to work on mathematical research up until he died,” Krieger said. “He was the most prolific mathematician.”Krieger said one of the things he admired most about Henriksen was the work he did with mathematicians worldwide.“He had collaborators all over the world … he would go to math meetings and meet with mathematicians in many obscure places,” Krieger said. “His most recent trip was to a mathematical meeting in Iran where he was the onlyAmerican mathematician present, so that gives you an idea of the kind of things he liked to do.”In addition to the important contributions Henriksen made to the mathematics community worldwide, he also had a large impact on the smaller community at HMC. One important influence Krieger noted was Henriksen’s influence on faculty governance at the college, especially during his time as chair of the mathematics department.“He wanted the faculty to step up and say what they wanted to say, not just do what administrators thought they ought to do,” Krieger said. “I think that was one of the more controversial aspects of his career here, but I also think it was a very good influence on faculty governance structure here and it made it quite strong.”In addition, Krieger said Henriksen had a defining role in encouraging professors in the mathematics department to do research.“He was instrumental in emphasizing that the faculty work on research and improve their teaching by staying on top of their field,” Krieger said.

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