George Berszenyi, mathematics mentor

This is George Berszenyi.

Image credit: NPR, Sara Stathas

He was the Chairman of the Department of Mathematics at my alma mater, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, while I was a student there majoring in mathematics.

I took but one class he taught. I forget after 30 years which one it was. I remember him as a kind man, genuinely interested in each of his students.

He was profiled on NPR recently for mentoring young mathematicians, challenging them through interesting problems to grow in the field. Several of the young people he coached went on to great things in mathematics and engineering. Read the article about him here.

I have a funny but embarrassing story to tell about George Berszenyi. My alma mater’s tradition is that the Chairman of each department read the names of that year’s graduates in each major. My full name is James Wilson Grey, III. In his thick Hungarian accent he read it as James Vilson Grey the Turd.

Titters went up from all corners of the audience. I crossed the stage red-faced.


11 thoughts on “George Berszenyi, mathematics mentor

  1. analogphotobug says:

    All of you mathematicians that end up as Software Engineers. Same for my husband the Mathematician.

    Love the name game story……….believe it or not, native english speakers manage to mangle my first name, Kathleen, what’s hard about that?

    • See, I always wanted to be a software engineer. But back in my day, when it was uphill to school both ways in the driving snow, the only way to a computer science degree was to essentially also get an electrical engineering degree. Good heavens, but do I not care what happens to electrons in circuits. So I switched to math, which I do really enjoy, and then took all the computer science classes that interested me.

      I cannot imagine how a native English speaker would not know how to pronounce Kathleen!

  2. Heide says:

    Very few men have the distinction of being the “turd” in their lineage, Jim! (Oh, you poor thing — but what a memorable story!)

  3. Curious the III / third thing, aside from kings and queens and film sequels, we don’t really have this in England. Does “James Wilson Grey III” mean your dad was called James Wilson Grey II and his dad was called James Wilson Grey? It’s more typical here to give a child a different first name and have perhaps a parent’s or grandparent’s name as a middle name in their honour. What happened at gatherings where there were three generations of men called the same name and someone calls “James”, didn’t it get very confusing?

    • My dad was James W. Grey, Jr., but otherwise you got it right. My dad’s dad (who died before I was born) went by Wilson, and among the Grey side of the family my dad was Jimmy and I was James. Within my nuclear family proper Dad was Jim and I was Jimmy or James. In college I switched to Jim and just let confusion reign when I was back home. We usually knew who was being talked to.

      • So there’s no “II”, it’s just Jr?

        I note you resisted following the trend and having James IV and V with your sons!

        I wonder what the record is for this in a US family…

        • My parents were disappointed that I didn’t name my first son James W. Grey, IV. I couldn’t do that to the poor kid. I got enough flak as a kid for being a III. I gave my son my brother’s middle name, Damion.

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