‘The whole professor’

University of Wyoming professor of mathematics Myron Allen received the 2016 John P. Ellbogen Lifetime Achievement Award for his 33 years of work as a professor and provost. 

JEREMY MARTIN/Boomerang photographer

More than 30 years spent as a professor is an accomplishment many can be proud of, but Myron Allen took his career one step past teaching and into Old Main, and his lifelong work is now memorialized.

A University of Wyoming professor of mathematics, Allen received the 2016 John P. Ellbogen Lifetime Achievement Award for his varied history at the institution.

“It was a very nice surprise,” he said. “There are not many of these lifetime awards, and to win one of these is fantastic.”

After finishing school at Princeton University and Dartmouth College, Allen looked west for his first job in higher education.

“I spent all my youth on the East Coast, and by the time I graduated, I knew I wanted to be in the Rocky Mountains,” he said.

UW had a new department head and several special programs in the math department that drew Allen to Wyoming in 1983.

“When I came here, it probably took a year or two to decide if I really wanted to stay,” he said. “I grew to be really attached to the institution and the mission it has for the state of Wyoming.”

He went up the faculty ranks to department head in 1992 — his first administrative position.

“I never really aspired to be an administrator, but I think lots of people, at some point in their career, are asked to be a department head,” he said. “That just kind of fell in my lap, and I took that.”

Allen ultimately taught 32 different courses during his career in mathematics, from the first introductory course to the top graduate class.

“I don’t like teaching the same course semester after semester,” he said. “It can get boring.”

After six years of continued professor and department head work, he was asked by then UW-Provost Tom Buchanan to join him in higher administration.

“After I finished being a department head, I thought that was that,” Allen said. “However, Tom Buchanan became the provost and asked me to come over and be associate provost, and he was the one person who could have persuaded me to take that job. Short answer, it was the right guy who asked.”

Before taking the provost position, Buchanan was associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and worked closely with Allen, who stayed in the associate provost position for six years. He became full provost in 2005 when Buchanan became interim president and ultimately full president.

Bill Gern, vice president for research and economic development, worked with Allen during his time at Old Main.

“(Allen) is the whole person — the whole professor,” he said. “He liked being a professor. He did a great job in his teaching. You don’t win a lifetime Ellbogen without being a remarkable teacher, but he’s also a solid researcher and provided a lot of service.”

Allen is proud of several accomplishments during his eight years as provost and vice president for academic affairs, such as working with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

“One initiative where my scientific knowledge came in handy was when we were working with the people with NCAR to figure out if they would be willing to put their next supercomputer in Wyoming and partner with the University of Wyoming,” he said.

Gern said that, while the NCAR discussion happened after Allen took office, he already predicted a large computing boom was in the future.

“One of the first things Myron did was, when we started writing academic plans, we try to predict into the future, and you’ll see in the very first plan, we talk about building the University of Wyoming science computation and infrastructure,” he said.

The Yellowstone Supercomputer was completed in 2012 and, at the time, was one of the fastest computers in the world.

Allen also helped create the School of Energy Resources among other accomplishments. He returned to the math department in 2013 shortly after UW President Bob Sternberg took office.

“Now, I’m a rank and file professor, which is a great job to have,” Allen said.

And Allen continues to stay passionate about his work, Gern said.

“At the end of the day, universities are about preparing the next generation to become effective in their lifelong pursuits, and that’s what Myron does,” Gern said. “He has high expectations, and he brings his students along — Myron works with them to make sure they succeed.”

Allen has also made several strides in the math department working mostly in numerical analysis, where he uses computers to solve difficult problems.

“The problems I’m most interested in are the ones involved with underground fluid flow — ground water aquifer or oil flow,” he said.

Other departments on campus are just as interested in similar aquifer work, and Allen works with professors to benefit each other.

“I think that interdisciplinary action is very important,” he said. “For me, it’s very motivating. I really enjoy learning about a problem from someone else’s perspective and then trying to contribute a mathematician perspective to help solve the problem. Mathematics is like a lense to look at the rest of the world.”

But teaching continues to be one of Allen’s real passions.

“I would say some of the things I’m proudest of are some of the things my students have gone on to do in their careers,” he said “Watching students have their real first encounter with mathematics, pursue it and, eventually, go on to become professional mathematician and succeed is a great feeling.”

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