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Leona A. Harris Gives 16th Etta Z. Falconer Lecture

  • Dates: 15 – 15 Apr, 2021
  • How to find us: Virtual on Zoom

Leona Harris Gives Etta Falconer Lecture at Spelman

The Making of a Mathematician Through Inspiration, Empowerment, and Mentorship: Reflections on My Mathematical Journey Lecture by Leona A. Harris, Ph.D., C'95

"Whenever I reflect back on my years as a student in the Spelman College mathematics department, I cannot help but boast about the many lessons I learned that have shaped my professional trajectory, my world view and civic responsibility, and my commitment to diversifying the mathematical sciences," said Harris.

Her Falconer lecture will explore the impact of a legacy of inspiration, empowerment, and mentorship on her career path and life’s work. During the talk, she will reflect on her journey from student to professor to administrator to public servant. She will also share how she discovered the power of potential, possibilities, and purpose along the way.

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Spelman Alumna Leonora Harris Gives Etta Falconer LectureAbout Dr. Harris

Dr. Leona A. Harris is an energetic, innovative, and meticulous professional with over 20 years of experience in research, education, and administration. Dr. Harris currently serves as a Program Analyst in the Office of Science at the Center for Tobacco Products of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

In this role, she focuses on data analysis, data assessment and integration, and data visualization. Prior to joining FDA, Dr. Harris was an associate professor of mathematics and chair of the Division of Sciences and Mathematics at the University of the District of Columbia. In addition, Dr. Harris spent ten years at the College of New Jersey where she held several leadership roles. She is an accomplished educator with experience teaching all levels of undergraduate mathematics courses to diverse populations of students including first-generation college students, transfer students, and adult learners at several colleges and universities.

Dr. Harris is the executive director and past interim president of the National Association of Mathematicians; and is a co-founder of the Infinite Possibilities Conference. Throughout her career, she has forged strong partnerships with a broad range of college faculty and professionals in education, industry, and government through academic support programs, interdisciplinary research, curriculum and program development, and professional association engagement. She has demonstrated a commitment to increasing the numbers of minorities and women pursuing careers and higher degrees in science and mathematics through her involvement in a variety of local and national diversity initiatives.

Dr. Harris graduated magna cum laude from Spelman College with a B.S. in mathematics and earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in applied mathematics from North Carolina State University as a National Physical Science Consortium fellow. After graduate school, she completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  She has a proven track record of success in data analysis, mathematical modeling, and computer programming and simulation, as an applied mathematician specializing in mathematical biology.


The primary goal of the mathematics department is to teach all students to think logically and critically. The curriculum supports the development of higher level mathematical skills and computing expertise for students in fields such as the natural, computer, engineering, and social sciences. Furthermore, the departmental programs and activities provide opportunities for academic excellence and leadership development, which enhance a liberal arts education.

When a student majoring in mathematics enters Spelman College, she can expect to learn about more than just numbers. Rather, she can expect a well-rounded mathematics education that will prepare her for a range of careers, including medicine, dentistry, statistics, law, education, business and engineering. Departmental programs and activities provide opportunities for academic excellence and leadership development that enhances a liberal arts education.

Spelman is a top pipeline institution for African-American women who go on to earn doctorate degrees in mathematics.  Many students also pursue dual-degree engineering programs, through which they receive a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Spelman as well as an engineering degree from top-rated institutions such as Georgia Tech, Columbia University, and the University of Michigan.

Great Mentoring in Small Student-Teacher Ratio

For professors in the mathematics department, teaching students is their No. 1 priority. With a small student-teacher ratio, professors serve as mentors to students, guiding them both academically and professionally.

Colm Mulcahy, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics, known for his use of card tricks, likes using cards to demonstrate mathematical applications.

“The mathematics behind the tricks uses ideas from areas as diverse as algebra, number theory, discrete math and probability and statistics,” said Professor Mulcahy.  “Whenever possible, I incorporate these card tricks into math classes at any level, regardless of the majors of the students in attendance, to illustrate an entertaining and less well-known application of math concepts.” 

Service is also a major component of the mathematics department. Students are often given the opportunity to serve as tutors to local elementary school students, helping them with mathematics and other homework assignments on a regular basis.

Be Whatever You Want to Be

As a prospective mathematics major, you, too, can look forward to following in the footsteps of other Spelman graduates who have used their math degrees to make significant contributions in mathematical arenas.  Many graduates gravitate toward careers in biostatistics, business, and technology, and Spelman students are no exception. Many have become successful educators, researchers, statisticians, medical doctors, lawyers, business leaders, and even members of the financial sector. Others seek careers in financial math and mathematical biology, while others prefer more traditional career paths such as pure math, math education and applied math.

A great example in business is Kim Barnette, Ph.D., president and CEO for Delta Decision of DC, an operations research consulting company.  The 1992 math graduate, along with partners Afi Davis Harrington, C'93, and Shree Whitaker Taylor, started DDD in 2006 after leaving the Center for Naval Analyses. 

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