Gift Creates Endowed Professorship in Math Department

April 6, 2011 — Marvin Rosenblum, who taught mathematics in the University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences for 45 years, is remembered for his generosity and supportiveness. In the words of one former student, he was a "role model in treating all people fairly, with grace, respect, intelligence, kindness and good humor."

Besides teaching, he directed dissertations and became known internationally as an expert in operator theory and analysis and "perturbation theory" – which says that an approximate solution can be found to a problem by starting from the exact solution to a related problem.

Now, a gift from his son, U.Va. alumnus Mendel Rosenblum, will honor Rosenblum's career and numerous contributions to the University. The younger Rosenblum and his wife, Diane Greene, recently gave $3 million to create the Marvin Rosenblum Professorship in Mathematics in the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, for which candidates are currently being recruited.

Dean Meredith Jung-En Woo said the gift will allow the College to realize the transformational opportunity that lies ahead for the Department of Mathematics, one of the original eight "useful sciences" that Thomas Jefferson deemed essential for a core undergraduate curriculum.

"The likely retirement of many mathematics faculty in the near term is both a challenge to continuity and an opportunity to build on the excellent faculty and reputation our department enjoys," she said. "Having the Rosenblum chair means we can recruit a world-renowned mathematician to head the department and guide its growth during this time of transition.

"We are immensely grateful to Mendel and Diane for making that possible."

In addition to performing his University-related duties, Marvin Rosenblum was a member of several professional organizations, including the American Mathematical Society. He also edited the journal Integral Equations and Operator Theory. He retired from the University in May 2000 and died in 2003. His survivors include his wife, Elizabeth Parker Rosenblum, and their five children.

Mendel Rosenblum, a 1984 graduate of the College with a degree in mathematics, explained that his decision to make the substantial gift came after he had carefully considered how best to honor his father's memory and how to have significant impact on the department to which he and his father were both so closely connected.

"I very much wanted to do something for U.Va. and the math department. After all, they did a lot for me," he said. "I took my time to figure out what would be a good use of the gift. I was impressed by Dean Woo's ideas about how it could benefit the math department."

Mendel Rosenblum also left his mark on U.Va. before going on to a notable career of his own.

In 1984, when an "inbox" was a desk accessory and "spam" was the brand name of a canned meat product, he was quietly revolutionizing how U.Va. faculty, students and staff would communicate with one another. During his final months as a student,  Rosenblum worked as a systems programmer in the Academic Computing Center, located in the basement of Gilmer Hall.

There he developed U.Va.'s first electronic mail system. Rosenblum remains modest about his project, mentioning it as an afterthought in a discussion of memorable places around the Grounds. "I remember spending hours in the basement of Gilmer. That's where I wrote a system that allowed people to send emails.

"I guess I was a computer nerd," he said, laughing.

The younger Rosenblum earned master's and doctoral degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, where he pursued his burgeoning interest in computer science. He met Diane Greene, a fellow computer science graduate student, and they married in 1992.

In 1998, they co-founded VMware, a software technology company that created the mainstream market for virtualization, which today is a cornerstone of cloud computing. Greene was CEO and Rosenblum chief scientist for 11 years. They left in mid-2008.

Today, Rosenblum is an associate professor of computer science at Stanford University, where he teaches and leads a group focused on operating systems research. "We're interested in developing storage systems for high-performance sites, like Google and Facebook," he said.

Reflecting on his connection to U.Va., Rosenblum feels gratitude and responsibility. "With economic circumstances as they are, when public universities are feeling the crunch from reduced state funding, the University needs strong alumni support to continue operating at the highest levels and to attract the best and the brightest."

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