March 8, 1945 -
Sylvia Wiegand comes from a family of mathematicians. Both of her paternal grandparents, Grace Chisholm Young (1868-1944) and William Henry Young (1863-1942), were mathematicians. Her father, Laurence Chisholm Young (1905-2000), was the Distinguished Research Professor in mathematics at the University of Wisconsin. Her aunt, Cecily Young Tanner (1900-1992), wrote a Ph.D. thesis in mathematics at Cambridge University and taught at Imperial College, University of London.
Sylvia Young was born in Cape Town, South Africa, where her father was Head of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Cape Town. The family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, in 1949 when Laurence Young accepted a position at the University of Wisconsin. Sylvia's interest in mathematics developed at a young age in response to the mathematical puzzles posed by her father. During her junior and senior years at Wisconsin High School she took mathematics courses at the University of Wisconsin. She then entered Bryn Mawr College. During her first year at college she met Roger Wiegand, a senior mathematics major at Princeton University who went on to graduate school at the University of Washington. When she graduated in 1966 after only three years at Bryn Mawr, she and Roger married. Sylvia then spent one year completing a master's degree at Washington while Roger finished his Ph.D.
The Wiegands returned to Madison when Roger accepted a position on the mathematics faculty at the University of Wisconsin. Sylvia entered the mathematics graduate program at the university where Mary Ellen Rudin was a mentor to many of the women students. She received her Ph.D. in 1972 with a thesis in commutative algebra entitled "Galois Theory of Essential Expansions of Modules and Vanishing Tensor Powers," written under the supervision of Lawrence Levy. Parts of this work appeared in her first paper which was published in the Canadian Journal of Mathematics in 1972 [Abstract].
With Sylvia and Roger Wiegand both working in the same area of commutative algebra, their "two-body problem" of finding academic jobs together was particularly acute. Fortunately, the mathematics department at the University of Nebraska offered both of them positions, although Sylvia was only hired as an instructor. Two years later, however, she was promoted to assistant professor, followed by promotion to associate professor after another two years. She became a full professor in 1987. She was the only female professor in the department at that time. She has published over 40 research papers, including seven joint papers with her husband, and supervised five Ph.D. students. In May 2005, The University of Nebraska hosted the Nebraska Commutative Algebra Conference: WiegandFest "in celebration of the many important contributions of Sylvia and Roger Wiegand."
Sylvia Wiegand has an extensive record of service to the mathematics professional community. She has served as an editor for Communications in Algebra and the Rocky Mountain Journal of Mathematics, and as a member of numerous committees of both the Mathematical Association of America and the American Mathematical Society, including the AMS Council (1994-1996). She also served a four-year term on the Executive Board of Directors of the Canadian Math Society (1997-2000).
Wiegand has been a strong advocate for women in mathematics. Under the leadership of then chair, Jim Lewis, the mathematics department at Nebraska began an effort in 1988 to create a welcoming and supportive environment for women faculty and students alike. Among a series of student awards established by the department was a fellowship created to honor Sylvia Wiegand's grandparents. In 1996 the department initiated an annual Summer Mathematics Camp for High School Girls called All Girls/All Math, and two years later began the annual Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics. While all this was happening on campus, Wiegand became President of the Association for Women in Mathematics in 1997, serving a two year term. As president she became involved in efforts to promote mathematics and science issues on Capitol Hill and advocated for increases in federal support of mathematics and science education and research. In 2000 Wiegand was presented with Nebraska University's Outstanding Contribution to the Status of Women Award.
In addition to her successful career as a mathematician, Sylvia Wiegand has for many years been an avid runner for pleasure and in 10K races, marathons, and even ultramarathons. She completed the 1981 Omaha marathon in 3:18, a personal best, and in 1994 finished the 100 mile Leadville ultramarathon in a time of 29 hours, 35 minutes.
Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Sylvia Wiegand