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Dr. Norma Gilbert spent 25 years at Drew.

Donation from Dr. Steven Gilbert honors his mother, a former chair of the math department.

October 2016 – A new junior professorship at Drew University aims to recruit gifted mathematicians in the name of a former longtime professor and chair of the school’s math department.

The Norma Gilbert Junior Professorship in Mathematics is funded by a $3 million donation from Gilbert’s son, Dr. Steven Gilbert. The commitment is the University’s largest ever in math and ties for seventh largest overall in its history. Also, if Drew raises additional funds to support the junior professorship and other math initiatives, Gilbert will donate another $2 million in the future.

“This significant gift will greatly strengthen Drew’s math program,” said University President MaryAnn Baenninger. “It’s also a fitting tribute to Norma, who was a leader on campus, a gifted teacher and—as a woman—a trailblazer. The entire Drew community is incredibly grateful for Steve’s generosity.”

A key goal of the donation is to attract budding mathematicians, who in turn can raise Drew’s profile in all math-related subjects, including statistics, computational science, epidemiology, econometrics and population genetics. By achieving that, Drew should become more appealing to students interested in studying such subjects.

A Microsoft connection

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Dr. Steven Gilbert: ‘I’ve inherited a fortune and with that comes responsibility.’

Norma Gilbert taught at Drew from 1964 until 1989 and chaired the math department for several years in the 1970s. In addition, she published Statistics in 1976, which became an academic bestseller.

The book’s success enabled the professor to buy stock in Microsoft after the company went public in 1986, and significant growth in that investment, in turn, gave her son the means to fund the professorship. Norma Gilbert died in 2001.

Asked what his mother would have thought of his donation, Gilbert said, “She’d be very proud.” He added, “I’ve inherited a fortune and with that comes responsibility. And I think she would say, ‘That’s about the best thing you could do with it.’”

Gilbert’s generosity put Drew beyond its $80 million goal in its One And All campaign, which ended up raising $85.4 million by its close on June 30. It’s also his second major contribution to Drew: in 2005, he endowed the Gilbert Family Scholarship in Mathematics, Chemistry and Physics in memory of his mother and father, Everett Gilbert, an accomplished chemist.

Recruiting begins

The new junior professorship enables Drew to fund two professors and a search is already under way. Ideally, the University will attract candidates who recently earned PhDs from schools that are known for their math programs.

The initial professors are expected to join Drew in time for the fall 2017 semester.

The professorship comes with a wrinkle: once a recipient achieves tenure, he or she forfeits the money. Why? Because Gilbert wants Drew to attract new talent, and then replenish it once the talent rises up. As Gilbert put it, “These professorships are designed to hire for Drew people who are ambitious teachers of math, energetic teachers of math.”

A life in academia

Gilbert wrote Statistics to create a more definitive textbook for her students.
Gilbert wrote Statistics to create a more definitive textbook for her students.

Norma Gilbert earned a bachelor’s—summa cum laude—from Smith College and a master’s from New York University. And three years after joining Drew as an instructor in 1964, she received her PhD from the Stevens Institute of Technology, which enabled her to become an assistant professor and later, a professor.

In the classroom, she was an innovator, using, for example, closed circuit television to teach two sections of statistics at the same time. As the Paterson Morning News explained in a 1977 story, Gilbert taught “two differently paced classes simultaneously by appearing before them in the same period alternatively ‘live’ and on videotape.”

Also, part of what drove her to write Statistics was a desire to have a more definitive textbook for her students.

At home, Gilbert and her husband, Everett, raised two children, including Steve, who went on to earn a bachelor’s from Yale University and PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. The family lived in Morristown, in a modest ranch house on Frederick Place.

Everett Gilbert, whom Steve described as a “prince of organic chemists,” earned a remarkable 180 patents during his career, including 13 in one year: 1966. And while Everett didn’t teach, he grew up in a family of academics: his father, Allan Gilbert, was an exceptional Renaissance scholar, and his brother, Creighton, a renowned art history. Allan made his mark as a professor of English literature at Duke University, but also had a Drew connection: he taught there from 1963 until 1974.