Robert “Bob” L. Borrelli, a longtime faculty member, campus leader and friend of Harvey Mudd College died Sept. 11, 2013 at the age of 81, following a short period of declining health. Borrelli joined the faculty in 1964, taught for 35 years and was active at Harvey Mudd in his retirement, influencing the College’s development in many ways.
“In addition to being an inspiring teacher and colleague, Bob was a driving force in the mathematics field, especially at Harvey Mudd,” said President Maria Klawe. “This is splendidly shown in the 2006 Award for an Exemplary Mathematics Program from the American Mathematical Society, the first such award ever given.”
He was instrumental in the evolution of the Harvey Mudd mathematics program. He served multiple terms as department chair (1975-1977, 1981-1989) and as director (1975-1977, 1978-1980, 1981-1989) of the Mathematics Clinic program. His belief that computers were underused in higher mathematics spurred a new way of teaching differential equations. With his longtime colleague and collaborator Courtney Coleman, professor of mathematics emeritus, Borrelli developed many curricular innovations, including a Differential Equations course that emphasized modeling and visualization using computer software.
With Coleman, he wrote the textbook Differential Equations: A Modeling Perspective and built ODE Architect, visualization software used by a generation of Harvey Mudd students. The project was named “One of the nine best digital projects on the planet” in 1998 by New Media magazine.
In a 2011 statement, Borelli shared his reasons for joining the Harvey Mudd community: “Two things attracted me to a very young Harvey Mudd College in 1964: a very selective student body and the chance to help build a mathematics program suitable for these talented students. Although money was scarce in the early days, I especially appreciated the fact that Harvey Mudd encouraged its faculty to be creative with the curriculum.”
In addition to teaching, Borelli supported students through initiatives outside the classroom. He and his wife, Ursula, endowed the Giovanni Borrelli Prize and the Giovanni Borrelli Fellowship, which recognizes a Harvey Mudd mathematics major who seeks to complete high-quality research independently or with a faculty advisor. He was the principal architect behind the founding of the Interface Journal, an undergraduate interdisciplinary journal that later was reinvented as the online Interface Compendium. He also co-founded the Claremont Center for Mathematical Sciences, which enables mathematics research and other collaborative initiatives on an unprecedented scale in Claremont. He infused the concept of the Harvey Mudd Clinic Program into a summer program at UCLA called Research in Industry Program for Students.
Harvey Mudd College honored Borrelli for his extraordinary dedication and service with the Henry T. Mudd Prize (1998) and the Alumni Association Honorary Alumnus award (1999).
“His true legacy is the generations of mathematicians at Harvey Mudd and beyond that he inspired to do great things,” said Andy Bernoff, chair of the Department of Mathematics.
During and after his time at Harvey Mudd, Borrelli pursued several entrepreneurial ventures. He served for several years as president and chairman of the board at Innosoft International Inc., founded in October 1987. A developer of Internet standards-based messaging and directory solutions, the company was sold in 2000 to Sun Microsystems Inc. During the early 2000s, Borrelli also co-owned a restaurant in downtown Claremont, where he shared his love of food and wine with others.
Before coming to Harvey Mudd, Borrelli was an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, a senior engineering specialist at Philco Corp., and a National Science Faculty Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Bonn, West Germany. He received his B.S. and M.S. in mathematics from Stanford University and his PhD in applied mathematics from the University of California, Berkeley.
Borrelli was preceded in death by his wife, Ursula, who died in December 2012. He is survived by their four children, Monica Hess, Christina Franks, Margaret Murphy and Stephen Borrelli 11 grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.