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Dr. Pemantle: Merriam Term Professor of Mathematics

R. Pemantle

The newly appointed Merriam Term Professor of Mathematics, Dr. Robin Pemantle came to Penn from Ohio State University last summer, where he served as professor of mathematics for four years. Dr. Pemantle earned his Ph.D. in probability theory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology after completing a B.A. at the University of California at Berkeley.

Dr. Pemantle is a prominent scholar in fields of probability theory and combinatorics. In probability theory, he works on tree-indexed process, discrete potential theory, branching processes, rapidly mixing Markov chains and pathwise properties of Brownian motion, while his specific interests in combinatorics include spanning trees of graphs, asymptotics of multivariable generating functions, optimization and enumerative combinatorics in general. He has held postdoctoral research fellowships at Cornell University, Oregon State University, the Mathematical Sciences Institute at Cornell, and the University of California at Berkeley.

During his former appointments at both the Ohio State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr. Pemantle was at the forefront of nationwide efforts to reform mathematical instruction. To prepare undergraduates for future careers in mathematics teaching, he developed a series of experimental courses that replaced the traditional lecture-style setting with an emphasis on small-group problem solving, communication skills, and firsthand training in fundamental theories and reasoning.  This spring, Dr. Pemantle will foster teaching innovation among Penn students by leading an academically-based community service course on Learning Math by Teaching Math.  This innovative course, offered through the Center for Community Partnerships, will allow undergraduates to develop and teach hands-on activities to students in math classes at University City High School.

An elected fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, he has received prestigious teaching and research awards including a Lilly Teaching Fellowship, Presidential Faculty Fellowship, Romnes Fellowship, and Sloan Foundation Fellowship. 

Dr. Pemantle's work has been published in such scholarly mathematics journals as The Annals of Probability, Probability Theory and Related Fields, Journal of Theoretical Probability, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. His most recent paper, "Time to Absorption in Discounted Reinforcement Models"  with Dr. Brian Skyrms of the University of California at Irving, will be included in an upcoming volume of Stochastic Processes and their Applications. 

The Merriam Term Chair was created in 2000 through the bequest of John W. Merriam, W '31, who taught economics at Penn in 1934. He began his entrepreneurial career during the Depression when he developed his first apartment complex and went on to become one of the Delaware Valley's leading real estate developers. Mr. Merriam was also very active in the Philadelphia arts community and served on the boards of the Philadelphia College for the Performing Arts and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.



  Almanac, Vol. 50, No. 22, February 17, 2004