MAA Honors de Pillis

Harvey Mudd College mathematics professor Lisette de Pillis is the winner of the 2019 MAA Southern California-Nevada Section Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics, given to instructors recognized as extraordinarily successful and whose teaching effectiveness has had an influence beyond their own institutions.

“Lisette is an extraordinary teacher, scholar, mentor and chair,” says Art Benjamin, Smallwood Family Professor of Mathematics, who was instrumental in de Pillis’s nomination for the award. “We are so lucky to have her on our faculty, and it’s hard to imagine anyone more deserving of this award. It was wonderful to see so many current and former students write enthusiastic letters of support.”

Indeed, the references to de Pillis’s meaningful influence on her students and colleagues are a unified narrative. One nominator wrote, “Lisette has been a champion of supporting women in our field. Her inspiring attitude toward science, teaching and service, her wonderful ability to reach out to young colleagues and lend an ear or a hand whenever possible are an absolute
inspiration.”

De Pillis is the Norman F. Sprague Professor of Life Sciences, a professor of mathematics, and department chair at Harvey Mudd College. She also led the Harvey Mudd College Global Clinic Program from 2009-2014 as director, prior to being elected as department chair.

She is a recognized expert in the field of cancer immunology modeling. Passionate about using mathematics to seek solutions to real-world problems, de Pillis works with other mathematicians, biologists and oncologists to search for new ways to treat diseases that interact with the immune system, in particular cancer, HIV and Type I diabetes.

In 2000, de Pillis’s multidisciplinary accomplishments were recognized by the Argonne National Laboratory with the Maria Goeppert-Mayer Distinguished (MGM) Scholar award. The award was established to recognize an outstanding woman scientist or engineer, chosen from an international pool of nominees. This was the first and only MGM award that was bestowed upon a researcher from an undergraduate institution, and only the second time the recipient was a mathematician. In 2016, de Pillis was elected as a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society, which recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the creation, exposition, advancement, communication and utilization of mathematics.

“It is a privilege to be able to teach at a place like HMC,” de Pillis says. “It is particularly rewarding when we can watch our students progress from being bright first years, eager to learn, to professionals, who can create and share new knowledge of their own, and who have built successful careers in the mathematical sciences and beyond. It is a special pleasure to see how so many of our students and alumni are committed to welcoming new generations of talented individuals into the world of mathematics and science.”

As the Southern California-Nevada Section award winner, de Pillis is also nominated for the national MAA Deborah and Franklin Tepper Haimo Award for Distinguished College or University Teaching of Mathematics. Harvey Mudd professors Francis Su and Art Benjamin received the Haimo Award in 2013 and 2000, respectively.