Person: Stephens, Clarence Francis
Clarence Francis Stephens was the ninth African American to be awarded a Ph.D. in mathematics. He developed what became known as the 'Morgan-Potsdam Miracle' method of teaching, based on problem solving with very few lectures.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- He often asked Clarence to go to the blackboard and show his classmates the steps for solving a problem.
- Clarence explained how to think about mathematical problems, because he wanted them to be able to solve difficult assignments on their own.
- The school fees were $100 and Stephens worked on the school farm during the summer to earn the money to pay the fees.
- Harbison Institute was run by the Board of Missions for Freedmen of the United Presbyterian Church and, although brought up a Baptist, Stephens joined the United Presbyterian Church, attending the church next to the school.
- Stephens was a fine sportsman, playing football and baseball to a high standard while at the school.
- Stephens, as the best student in his year, was offered a scholarship which he accepted.
- In his first year at Johnson C Smith University, Stephens was taught by Robert Langham Douglass (1870-1949), the professor of mathematics.
- Stephens was delighted to find that Douglass did very little lecturing but based most of his teaching on problem solving.
- This would become Stephens' preferred way of teaching in his own career.
- In his first year Stephens had to make deliveries for the drug store on foot, but the store owner purchased a bicycle for him during his second year and he was able to make more deliveries.
- Clarence was chosen for the job because he could solve a problem set by the hotel manager.
- Claude Stephens, fortunately, had found his own summer job as a barber.
- In his final year at Johnson C Smith University, Stephens took the courses History of Mathematics, Differential Equations, Advanced Calculus and Modern Geometry.
- He was taught in this year by George Frederick Woodson (1901-1985) who was very impressed when Stephens, asked to solve 10 of the 58 problems in the Advanced Calculus course, actually solved all 58.
- He suggested to Stephens that the University of Michigan would be a good place for graduate studies and, after graduating from Johnson C Smith University in the summer of 1938, a couple of months later he was beginning graduate studies at Michigan.
- Again Stephens faced financial problems since the University of Michigan provided no financial support.
- Stephens had been unable to find an advisor for algebra, the topic on which he wished to undertake research, and settled for a compromise undertaking research on difference equations with Nyswander.
- Although teaching went well for Stephens at the College, there was no members of staff with whom he could discuss research.
- Discussions with Nyswander were not too profitable for he advised Stephens that the problems he was proposing to solve were too difficult.
- By the end of 1941 Stephens had made a breakthrough in his research and began writing up his thesis.
- Stephens did war service from 1942 to 1946 as a Teaching Specialist in the US Navy, assigned to the Great Lakes Naval Base in Waukegan, Illinois, where sailors were trained.
- Janette went on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematical education from the University of Iowa while Clarence F Stephens Jr. was awarded a Master's Degree in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin.
- After completing his war service at the Great Lakes Naval Base, Stephens returned to Prairie View College, now as a professor of mathematics.
- In 1947 the President of Morgan State College invited Stephens to become Professor of Mathematics at the College.
- Stephens took up the position in the autumn of 1947.
- Instead of lecturing to us about mathematics Dr Stephens used to talk to us about famous mathematicians he had known.
- After Dr Stephens received his PhD he was invited to spend a year at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.
- When Dr Stephens did lecture he would solve something that at first seemed a mystery to us.
- In 1962 Stephens left Morgan State College when he was appointed as acting chair of mathematics at the State University of New York at Geneseo.
- Thank you, Dr Stephens, for giving me encouragement during my years at Potsdam and for many years since.
- Dr Stephens words live on.
- Vasily Cateforis succeeded Stephens as chair of the State University of New York Potsdam's Mathematics Department and was also his former student at Morgan State.
- Stephens received many honours in addition to those mentioned above.
- The Seaway Section of the Mathematical Association of America named their teaching award after Stephens in 2003.
- In 2018 he received the National Association of Mathematicians Centenarian Award and the Association named their Stephens annual teaching award in his honour.
- At this time a tombstone was erected with Harriette's birth and death dates, and also Clarence's name and date of birth; he was preparing to join her.
Born 24 July 1917, Gaffney, South Carolina, USA. Died 5 March 2018, Rochester, New York, USA.
View full biography at MacTutor
Tags relevant for this person:
African, Origin Usa
Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive