Posted by: Dave Richeson | September 1, 2009

Look who majored in mathematics

Here are some people who studied mathematics, but are more well known for other things.

  • Ralph Abernathy ~ civil rights leader and close associate of Martin Luther King, Jr., was a mathematics professor at Alabama State University
  • Corazon Aquino ~ former president of the Philipines, was a mathematics major at the College of Mt. St. Vincent
  • Harry Blackmun ~ former Associate Justice of the US Supreme court (author of Roe v. Wade), graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from Harvard University
  • Ahmed Chalabi ~ controversial Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister, has a PhD in mathematics from the University of Chicago
  • Lewis Carroll (AKA Charles Dodgson) ~ author of Alice’s adventures in wonderland and Through the looking glass, was a mathematician and logician who taught at Christ Church College Oxford. He was the author of a number of books on mathematics.
  • David Dinkins ~ former mayor of New York City, graduated magna cum laude with a BA in mathematics from Howard University
  • Art Garfunkel ~ Paul Simon’s long-time collaborator, has a masters degree in mathematics from Columbia University (he left the PhD program to pursue his musical career)
  • Philip Glass ~ American composer, studied mathematics and philosophy at the University of Chicago
  • Teri Hatcher ~ actress, studied mathematics and engineering at De Anza College
  • Heloise (Poncé Cruse Evans) ~ syndicated columnist (Hints from Heloise) had a double major in business administration and mathematics, with a teacher’s certificate from Southwest Texas State University
  • Michael Jordan ~ basketball superstar, majored in mathematics until his junior year
  • Theodore Kaczynski ~ the unabomber, his PhD thesis in mathematics from the University of Michigan won the Sumner B. Myers Prize for best dissertation of the year
  • Tom Lehrer ~ Singer-songwriter and satirist, received a BA in mathematics (magna cum laude) from Harvard at the age of 18, he went on to complete an MA in mathematics and to start the PhD program
  • Danica McKellar ~ actress best known for playing Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years, graduated summa cum laude in mathematics from UCLA. She is the author of the best-selling books Math Doesn’t Suck, and Kiss My Math
  • Harriet Miers ~ President G. W. Bush’s (unsuccessful) nominee to the US Supreme Court, has a bachelors degree in mathematics from Southern Methodist University
  • Larry Niven ~ award-winning science fiction author, received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Washburn University
  • William J. Perry ~ Secretary of Defense under Bill Clinton, received a PhD in mathematics from Penn State University (and a BA and MA from Stanford University, with George Pólya as his thesis advisor)
  • David Robinson ~ famous basketball player, nicknamed “The Admiral,” has a BS in mathematics from US Naval Academy
  • Frank Ryan ~ quarterback who led the Cleveland Browns to the 1964 NFL title, had a PhD in mathematics from Rice University
  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ~ Nobel Prize-wining author of The Gulag Archipelago, had a degree in mathematics and physics from the University of Rostov
  • Bram Stoker ~ author of Dracula, received honors in mathematics from Trinity college, Dublin
  • Virginia Wade ~ British tennis star, studied mathematics and physics and the University of Sussex
  • Paul Wolfowitz ~ U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense and President of the World Bank, studied mathematics and chemistry at Cornell University

Click on the the names above or the links below for more information. The sources below contain the names of many other mathematics majors.

Famous Nonmathematicians,” Steven G. Buyske, The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 100, No. 9 (Nov., 1993), pp. 845-847
Famous Math Majors,” Math Horizons, November 1994, p. 25
The Mathematician who Became Secretary of Defense,” Math Horizons, September 1996, pp. 14-21
Famous Math Majors
Famous Nonmathematicians
Famous Math Majors

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Responses

  1. Love your blog but as an old Simon and Garfukle fan, I suggest you check the spelling.

    • Oops. Thanks. WordPress should offer free copy editing.

  2. Nice one, got to know quite a few famous nonmathematicians.

  3. [...] Lehrer’s math songs After writing about some well known people with degrees in mathematics, I was moved to re-listen to some old Tom Lehrer songs on YouTube. I decided I’d post some [...]

  4. [...] Famous math majors [...]

  5. Quite a few surprises. Is it too well-known that Lewis Carroll was a mathematician for you to include him in the list?

    • Thank you for pointing out that omission. I planned to include Lewis Carroll, but must have forgotten to add him to the list. He’s on there now.

  6. If you count local celebrities:

    Antanas Mockus and Sergio Fajardo, former majors of Bogotá and Medellín respectively, current candidates for president and vice-president of Colombia, both most likely to be elected.
    If it happened, would Colombia be the first country with a mathematician leader? What about as a vice-president? What about both?

    • Very interesting. Thanks for the tip. I’ll have to keep an eye on the elections this year.


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