Walter Denham Memorial Award


The Walter Denham Memorial Award: Advocacy for Mathematics Education is presented to a person who is recognized as an advocate for mathematics education at the state and/or national level(s).  This person has demonstrated, over an extended period of time, an advocacy for leadership, curriculum, assessment, and quality mathematics education, as well as a broad knowledge and deep beliefs about the myriad of issues related to mathematics education.  In addition, this person exhibits many of the following attributes:

  • A champion of excellence in the teaching and learning of mathematics,
  • Encouragement of rational and critical discussions about issues in mathematics while using accurate and comprehensive data to support a position,
  • High respect of others, even those who may have different opinions, and
  • Steadfastness in the face of adverse circumstances.

Who was Walter Denham?

Walter Denham was born and raised in Miami, Florida, the son of postal workers. He received an undergraduate degree in physics form Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, New York in 1956 and his doctorate in applied mathematics from Harvard University in 1963. After teaching at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Vanderbilt University, he came to Claremont in Southern California in 1971 to work at the National Program for Education Leadership. Walter became involved in public school administration and joined state government in 1972. He served in several capacities under state Superintendent of Public Instruction Wilson Riles Sr. From 1983 to 1998 Walter Denham was the statewide supervisor of mathematics education at the California Department of Education. During this period, Walter was unbending in his role as champion of reforming mathematics education in California. He initiated and supported programs that were related to:

  1. the development, selection, and implementation of new kinds of curriculum materials,
  2. the professional development of teachers and teacher leaders, and
  3. the creation and use of innovative assessments.

He was a real trailblazer who significantly changed mathematics education in California and the country.

His wife of 46 years, Ann, said Walter’s other passion was his family.  “We may be the only family in the world that would sit at the table for dinner doing math problems,” she said. “And the kids would say, ‘Give us another one, Daddy! Give us another!’ ”

Walter died suddenly, shortly after making his 2002 Palm Springs presentation and finishing preparation for his Asilomar presentation. This award was established in 2004 by the California Mathematics Council in honor of this great man of vision, our friend, Walter Denham.

Previous recipients of the Walter Denham Memorial Award are:

  • 2019: Marilyn Burns
  • 2018: David Foster
  • 2015: Jo Boaler
  • 2014: Alan Schoenfeld
  • 2012: Kay Gilliland*
  • 2011: Phil Daro
  • 2009: Susie Hakansson
  • 2007: Steve Rasmussen
  • 2005: Bill Jacob


If you would like to nominate a person who fulfills the qualifications listed above, send the following information by September 1.  Note that, unlike our Polya and Begle awards, this person does not necessarily have to be a mathematics educator or a CMC member.

Walter Denham Award Nomination

Please provide the following information about the nominee:

  1. Name
  2. Home Address, City and zip
  3. Home Phone
  4. Occupation

Nominator’s name and contact information (email and phone number).

In one page, explain how this person has been an advocate for math education in California.

Additional information may be needed to help gather background information in support of the nomination.  Please include the names and contact information for other people who could be contacted.

Return by September 1 to:

Rebecca Lewis
CMC Awards Chair