WORCESTER, Mass. - Paul W. Davis, professor of mathematical sciences and former dean of the Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division at Worcester Polytechnic Institite (WPI), recently began a term as a Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State. One of only six fellows chosen for the 2006-07 academic year, Davis is the first mathematician to be named a fellow during the national program's three-year history.
The fellowship, created in 2003 by the State Department in partnership with the Carnegie Corporation, the MacArthur Foundation, the U.S. science, technology, and engineering academic community, and professional scientific societies, brings senior tenured faculty members in science and engineering to Washington, D.C., for a year-long, on-site assignment.
Jefferson Science Fellows are expected to share their areas of scientific and technical expertise with non-specialists within the State Department to help shape U.S. foreign policy. Fellows also must rapidly and accurately understand scientific advancements outside their discipline to assess their significance in policy discussions.
Davis, whose research interest is the operation and control of electric power systems, is working in the State Department's East Asia and Pacific regional bureaus in the Regional Security Policy Office, which is responsible for activities arising from the United States' commitment to an enhanced partnership with the Association of Southeastern Asian Nations (ASEAN). He is also assisting with United Nations agencies whose missions involve development. He will return to WPI after his year in Washington, but will remain available for short-term consulting projects for the State Department for five years.
A member of the WPI faculty since 1970, Davis served as dean of WPI's Interdisciplinary and Global Studies Division from 1999 until June 30 of this year. He oversaw the university's pioneering global projects program, which sends student teams around the world to solve open-ended technical and social problems for government agencies and organizations. WPI's 22 project centers are located on five continents, and include locations from Silicon Valley to Wall Street within the United States, and in numerous other nations, including Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Italy, Namibia, and Thailand.
Davis says his involvement with WPI's international program drew him to the Jefferson Science Fellowship program. "The notion of using science and technology to aid international development appealed to me," he says. "I look forward to opportunities to connect scientists and others in ASEAN's member nations with colleagues in the United States. If I am lucky, I might even help nurture some development programs that support good science that serves a local population. It's a chance to pose to myself the same challenge I give to my students: 'Use what you know, at multiple levels, to do something worthwhile for others.'"
As an applied mathematician, Davis has written textbooks, developed software to support student-centered learning in mathematical modeling, and consulted for a number of corporations. He has served as secretary for the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) and editor-in-chief of SIAM Review. He received his BS, MS, and Ph.D. degrees in mathematics from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.