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Theory of Connectivity - Bill and Penny Dunham

“We met in number theory. It was a very romantic experience,” laughs Dr. Bill Dunham. At the time, Bill and Dr. Penny Dunham were participants in an intensive summer graduate degree program at The Ohio State University under the direction of Dr. Arnold Ross, legendary mathematician and educator and founder of the Ross Mathematics Program.

As their relationship grew and their academic lives accelerated, Bill and Penny found that work and family life put a great deal of distance between them. At one point, they worked in different states - even different time zones. When it came time to pursue the next opportunity, they knew that they wanted careers in the same location.

In 1992, Bill was asked to serve as the Truman Koehler Professor of Mathematics, an endowed position. A year later, Penny joined Muhlenberg’s faculty; the opportunity was simply too good to pass up. They’ve enjoyed an academic career working closely together, often with many of the same students. Penny has a strong focus on mathematics education, while Bill has made a career of math history. 

Bill and Penny Dunham pictures with Bryan McComb '14

“A lot of people seem to want to separate their work from their home life,” says Penny. “But we’ve always found that we work together really well. It’s been great for us. Aside from the teaching, our professional interest have been a little different. Our old joke would be that Bill would take care of the past and I’d handle the future.”

Both Bill and Penny have established enduring relationships with students that have grown into lasting friendships. The most powerful memories of Muhlenberg are often formed around the quality of these relationships with students and colleagues.

Through the years, the Dunhams have built close relationships with students from a number of academic departments, including a number of particularly bright math graduates who still keep in close touch. Visitors to any of the home games of the Muhlenberg women’s basketball team will notice the Dunhams are two of the team’s most fervent supporters. Penny, born in Indiana, claims she had no choice in the matter. The close support the Dunhams have extended to the team has led to an invitation to participate as faculty liaisons on two European basketball tours.

“Muhlenberg has been very supportive of both our academic and professional careers in terms of teaching, writing and travel,” says Penny. “We’ve had amazing opportunities, including our sabbaticals at The University of Cambridge. Muhlenberg made that possible."

This year, Bill was selected by the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) as the 2014-2016 Pólya Lecturer. At the close of the fall semester, Bill will retire from Muhlenberg College after 21 years of service. He will spend the spring semester as a visiting professor at Princeton University and the following fall as a visiting professor at University of Pennsylvania.

After Muhlenberg, Penny looks forward to relaxing, volunteering and being able to vacation in the fall. She also hopes to find time for some craft projects and a large pile of books that have remained elusive during the school year.

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