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Faculty Retirement: Eugene Klotz

By Susan Cousins Breen

“Pitch-Perfect People Skills”—Eugene Klotz


On the second floor of the Swarthmore train station, in an office overlooking the shops in the Ville, Eugene “Gene” Klotz, Albert and Edna Pownall Buffington Professor Emeritus of Mathematics, is settling into his retirement quarters. Casually perched amid boxes filled with the paper trail of a 47-year College career, Klotz says, “I’ve been too busy to figure out retirement.”

Klotz’s colleagues understand well the nature and longevity of his busyness—“I’ve been here so long I’ve taught children of former students and some of my colleagues.”

Professor of Chinese Alan Berkowitz says Klotz is an innovator who continues to be “dearly iconoclastic and irreverent and the avatar of the World Wide Web at Swarthmore.” Professor of Mathematics Stephen Maurer ’67, who arrived at Swarthmore as a student the same year Klotz arrived to teach, says: “Gene was always willing to try new things. He taught the first biomathematics course at Swarthmore back in the 1970s, a topic only now really catching on. And he nudged—or should I say dragged—the math department into the computer age.”

In 1963, Klotz arrived on campus after completing a bachelor’s at Antioch and a doctorate at Yale University. “I’m liberal artsy,” he says, “and Swarthmore struck me as an interesting place to be. Over the years, the College has given me the building materials with which to construct a career and the flexibility to try some radical ideas.”

When Klotz was a new faculty member, five “gung-ho” math majors approached him about having a graduate-level algebra seminar rather than the normal algebra seminar. “I offered to give them a second-year graduate-level math seminar if they’d do some work over the summer,” Klotz says. “It worked out pretty well—three of these guys pursued careers in mathematics. One—Bob MacPherson ’66—became a star mathematician, and another [Maurer] currently chairs the math department here.”

Not all of Klotz’s radical ideas took place in the classroom. “Gene has an eye for interesting projects,” says Professor of Educational Studies Ann Renninger. “Two that he helped conceptualize—The Math Forum and the Geometer’s Sketchpad— have made significant contributions to math education and are recognized internationally.”

In 1992, Klotz founded The Math Forum, a Web resource for improving math learning, teaching, and communication. Today, the website, which he describes as his proudest achievement, is based at Drexel University and offers a wealth of problems and puzzles, online mentoring, research, team problem solving, collaborations, and professional development.

The Math Forum is still where Klotz goes to play—and part of the reason he hasn’t had time to plan for retirement—and where he spent the past summer working on Math Images, a new Forum project.

Still, “there are many things I’d like to get back to, to do more frequently,” Klotz says, “such as my passion for far-out music—flamenco, contemporary classical, and late 14th-century.”

Klotz is also drawn to books, bird watching, and gardening—he has a plot in the ‘Ville community garden—and travel, but for now, at least, he and his wife, Carole Netter, will remain in Swarthmore while she continues her work as a French lecturer at the College.

Scores of former students sent farewell messages to Klotz recalling him as a patient, enthusiastic, encouraging, inspiring, humorous mentor, adviser, friend, and teacher with what Will Block ’65 described as “pitch-perfect people skills.”

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