A Bit of History

An early design for what would become the McLaury Building, circa 1920. 
An early design for what would become the McLaury Building, circa 1920.

A quick history of the department

 Mathematics has been a necessary subject at the School of Mines since its inception in 1885, but the first record of a mathematics professor was Virgil H. Lewis, professor of mathematics and mechanics, in 1887. The record is not clear exactly when a department involving mathematics was formed, but there is a record of a Department of Mathematics and Physics in 1901, the two disciplines separating shortly after that date in 1903. Howard Lincoln McLaury, the first Department Head of Mathematics, was a powerful force in establishing the rigorous coursework that has been the tradition at the School of Mines ever since.

  History Professor McLaury Whitewash M-Hill Circa 1915

Professor McLaury ready to whitewash M-Hill in 1915.

In 1921 the Department of Mathematics moved into the new “Engineering Building” (seen above, shown with a clock tower that was never completed) on campus along with the Departments of Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Physics.  After McLaury’s death in 1952, it was renamed the McLaury Building in his honor, and has been the home of the department to this day.

  History The Engineering Building Circa 1930

The Engineering Building, circa 1930, before being renamed.

In 1922, a recent School of Mines graduate from Electrical Engineering was hired to teach mathematics as an instructor. This rather temporary start for Guy E. March eventually led to him becoming the second Department Head of Mathematics in 1941. Born in 1895 in a mining camp near Hill City, March had deep roots in South Dakota, spending a very long career at the School of Mines. The Alumni Association existed several years before March arrived on campus, but the association was never very active during his time as a student. In 1934, March called a meeting of the Alumni Association and afterward, through his leadership, the Association became the active organization it is today. Shortly after that 1934 meeting, the Association produced their first issue of The Hardrock , a publication communicating school events and alumni news.

  History Professor Guy March

Professor Guy March.

The bachelor's degree in mathematics was first authorized in 1957, with a master’s degree established two years later.  The late 1960s saw a rather evolutionary bunch join the department – Harold Carda, Roger Opp, David Ballew, Ronald Weger, and Dale Rognlie – who introduced programming classes into the mathematics curriculum.  These young mathematicians learned computer science theory on their own, establishing their own coursework, often before textbooks were available.  The bachelor's degree in computer science was approved in 1978, and graduates quickly followed.  As interest of computers grew, the master’s degree in mathematics evolved into a master’s degree in computer science, with the last mathematics degree awarded to Donna Johnson in 1985.  (Donna later became a member of the mathematics faculty.)  In 2019, Computer Science split with Mathematics to form the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.

  History Professor Roger Opp

Professor Roger Opp.

The Department of Mathematics continues to be a prominent member of the School of Mines and is deeply rooted in the educational role of the university, teaching a variety of courses required by all majors on campus. In addition, the department plays an active role in research projects on campus, many of which have been nationally recognized. The brief highlights above illuminate the strong, traditional role the department plays for the university, but also point to the department's evolution and adaptation to the changing needs of the campus and industry. We think more highlights are yet to come as the STEM needs of society continue to change.

  History McLaury Building Today

The McLaury Building today.

Adapted from “History of the Mathematics Department,” by Carl Albert Grimm (1926-2018).  Professor Grimm was a member of the Department of Mathematics (1952-1988), avid cyclist and explorer, and poser of “Grimm’s Conjecture” for consecutive composite integers.

  History Professor Al Grimm

Professor Al Grimm.

Department Head
Contact Information

Dr. Travis Kowalski
Interim Department Head/Professor
Phone: (605) 394-2471
Office: MDB 100

Please note:
Due to construction in McLaury, the Math department office is located in the lower level of the Dakota Building at 306 E. St. Joseph Street.