Shirley McBay, Pioneering Mathematician, Is Dead at 86

Report released in 1990 concluded that the educational pipeline was clogged and that rethinking education from kindergarten to 12th grade was necessary to improve Black enrollment.

Because of this, minority students have less access to high-quality educational opportunities than nonminority students do, write Dr. McBay and her colleagues in the report’s introduction. “To meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, this country’s current educational system is woefully unprepared.”

He also stepped down as dean and took a leave of absence to run the Quality Education for Minorities Network (QEMN), a spin-off of MIT’s QEMN project. After a two-year project turned into a lifelong passion for advocating for students of colour, she realised she needed to devote the rest of her professional life to this cause.

Besides helping them get into graduate school, her role as a mentor was equally important to their success. It was she who organised conferences, mentored junior faculty, and invited them to serve on grant review panels.

There was “nothing she wouldn’t do for you” if she believed in you and saw that you had a strong work ethic, Tasha Innis, an associate provost for research at Spelman, said in an interview. “She pushed you to new heights,” you said.

A small town in Georgia’s southwest, Bainbridge is where Shirley Ann Mathis was born on May 4, 1935. While James Mathis was in the military, Annie Bell (Washington) Mathis was a cook and Avon saleswoman who raised her.

After showing an aptitude for numbers as a child, Shirley excelled in math competitions, defeating students decades her senior. She enrolled in Paine College in Augusta, Georgia, at the age of 15, and graduated with a degree in chemistry at the age of 19, both in 1954.