Associate Professor Robert Sczech is a deeply moral man. His father was a Lutheran pastor who lived a simple life and led with kindness and generosity. In fact, he was so generous that Sczech’s mother used to say her husband couldn’t be trusted with significant funds because he would give it away to other people. Instead, she gave him pocket money while managing the family finances herself.
So, it’s not surprising that Sczech, who retired from Rutgers University–Newark’s Department of Mathematics & Computer Science in January after four decades on the faculty, has recently pledged a $500,000 endowment to support research efforts in the department.
The Robert Sczech Endowment for Research in Pure Mathematics will be used to bring visiting scholars to RU-N to teach and collaborate on cutting-edge research with professors in the Math department. It also will provide support for conferences and faculty research, for graduate students finishing their thesis, and toward awards for outstanding theses.
"Rutgers-Newark has been the happiest time of my life. I’ve had great colleagues, great freedom, friendships and moral support,” said Sczech. “Being able to work in this environment has been such a great privilege, and I believe it is important to give back what you receive so others can follow in your steps.”
Sczech, whose specialization is algebraic number theory, arrived at RU-N in 1986 as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Mathematics and received a tenure-track position the following year. He had emigrated to the U.S. in 1984 for a teaching position at the University of Maryland after his Ph.D. advisor at Bonn University, in Bonn, Germany, suggested that he come to America to pursue opportunities. He received tenure at RU-N in 1993 and, along with other faculty, helped guide the pure mathematics area as the department grew by leaps and bounds over the ensuing decades.
In marking Sczech’s extraordinary gift to the department, RU-N Chancellor Nancy Cantor remarked on the impact the mathematician has made in the lives of countless students and colleagues with his contributions to the field.
“That you would now establish the Robert Sczech Endowment for Research in Pure Mathematics in our Department of Mathematics and Computer Science speaks eloquently and touchingly to the depth of your commitment to Rutgers-Newark, to your field, and to continuing to inspire and cultivate new generations of mathematicians to explore the exquisite complexity of our world,” Cantor said.
Being able to work in this environment has been such a great privilege, and I believe it is important to give back what you receive so others can follow in your steps.
Mathematics is in Sczech’s DNA. He was born shortly after WWII in Mrągowo, Poland, in the northeastern corner of the country, near the Russian city of Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea, which was the economic and intellectual center of East Prussia and boasts a long history of famous mathematicians. At age 14 his family moved from Poland to Duisburg, Germany, along the Rhine River just north of Düsseldorf and Cologne, and he attended a special high school to learn German before studying mathematics at the University of Göttingen, which is known for its long line of math luminaries, including Johann Carl Friedrich Gauss, Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann, David Hilbert, Hermann Minkowski and Felix Klein.
After completing his Ph.D. In 1981, Sczech followed his advisor to the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics, in Bonn: His advisor had been appointed the new director, and Sczech was among the first generation of mathematicians hired there. He worked at the institute for two years before heading to the U.S.
As a theoretical mathematician, Sczech is keenly aware of evolution of the field across time and space, and its widespread application.
“Math is the same across cultures and very international, and comes from a movement that started roughly 2,000 years ago with Greek mathematicians,” said Sczech. “To see how every generation has contributed change to the field, how it runs through human history and enables so many aspects of human life, is beautiful.”
Sczech cites two examples of math’s underlying importance. Particle physics, he says, contains concepts based on mathematics done 100 years ago, and cryptocurrency (think: encryption), which is viewed by the public as an invention of computer science, also has its basis in math.
“The importance and need for math is growing daily. Engineering, finance, economics—we see math everywhere. There seems to be no end to it,” said Sczech.
While Sczech’s desire to give back to RU-N has been evident for some time, his ability to do so rested on an unexpected investment he made back in 1996, when at the behest of his landlord he bought the seven-family building where he was living in Jersey City. His wife thought he was crazy, but the move paid off, netting him a handsome profit when he sold it early last year. He’s using a sizable chunk of that money to fund the new Math department endowment.
That seems only natural to Sczech.
“I feel so grateful to Rutgers-Newark and wanted to help the department expand its research efforts, which couldn’t be done before due to a lack of money,” said Sczech. “Research comes from the past and needs to be supported in the future. I feel it is my duty to do that.”