SIAM News Blog

Executive Director Jim Crowley Retires After 25 Years of SIAM Leadership

By Lina Sorg

After 25 years as SIAM’s executive director, James (Jim) Crowley is retiring this September. Jim has been an active SIAM member since 1978 and has served as SIAM’s second executive director since 1995. Under Jim’s affable yet commanding leadership, SIAM has maintained strong fiscal health while remaining uniquely devoted to its membership community.

With Jim at the helm, SIAM’s various programs and publications—including its international and digital presence—have experienced healthy and continued growth. When he first took office, SIAM had 8,684 members. That figure has risen to 14,346. SIAM has also launched seven new journals since 1995, including the recent SIAM Journal on Mathematics of Data Science, thus extending the total number of journals from 11 to 18. Since Jim’s arrival, SIAM has published 455 books and added 11 new book series.

Jim Crowley speaks at the SIAM Business Meeting during the 2016 SIAM Annual Meeting, which took place in Boston, Mass. SIAM photo.
SIAM also founded its esteemed Fellows Program under Jim’s domain. The program, which commenced in 2009, has recognized a total of 535 members as SIAM Fellows. Also of note is the exponential growth of SIAM Student Chapters—from nine to 195—in the last 20 years.

Jim came to SIAM after a 22-year career in the Air Force, where he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. He held various positions during this time, including assistant chief scientist for Air Force Systems Command and directorate head of Mathematics and Information Sciences at the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. Jim also served as a tenured associate professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy and a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Jim received his Ph.D. in mathematics from Brown University in 1982—under the direction of Harvey Thomas Banks—during his time with the Air Force. He also holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in mathematics from the College of the Holy Cross and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University respectively. Jim’s scientific interests are in control theory and large-scale computing. In addition to his involvement with SIAM, he is a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In honor of Jim’s retirement and the SIAM legacy he leaves behind, we have compiled several tributes from SIAM members in various leadership positions who have worked closely with him over the years. They share their memories, commendations, and well-wishes below.

Lisa Fauci (Tulane University): In any professional collaboration, there is nothing better than working with someone who is super smart, knowledgeable, responsive, and supportive; it’s a bonus if that person has a subtle yet great sense of humor. You can therefore imagine that one of the highlights of my time as SIAM president has been working with Jim. I have learned so much from him about science policy, publications, conferences, and other pillars of professional societies. Mostly, though, I hope that I have picked up some of Jim’s uncanny ability to listen carefully to other people’s ideas and initiatives and provide critical input without an ounce of insult.

Jim’s steadfast leadership and even-handedness was especially important this year when SIAM’s conferences quickly became virtual and other SIAM business was conducted from kitchen tables and basements. While I had envisioned toasting to Jim’s next chapter while we were face-to-face at the Second Joint SIAM/CAIMS Annual Meeting in Toronto, I will take a rain check on this and look forward to the time when Jim and the SIAM community can be together in person once again.

Tim Kelley (North Carolina State University): I first met Jim in 1994, right after he accepted the executive director position. Several weeks after taking the job, Jim helped me solve a few problems in getting my 1995 book, Iterative Methods for Linear and Nonlinear Equations, approved for publication. Since then I’ve worked with him as a SIAM officer, conference organizer, author, and conference attendee. He has been a consistent (and sometimes lonely) voice of sanity in all the SIAM work I’ve done. SIAM has become far more inclusive and open under Jim’s leadership. Thanks, Jim!

From left to right: SIAM News editor-in-chief Hans Kaper (Georgetown University), Jim Crowley, and past president Pam Cook (University of Delaware) at the 2014 SIAM Annual Meeting, which was held in Chicago, Ill. SIAM photo.
Nicholas Higham (University of Manchester): Jim has been extremely visible in his leadership, not least through his many SIAM News articles, his attendance at SIAM conferences, and his representation of SIAM on various external bodies. But what most people don’t know is how much Jim does behind the scenes. In addition to running a happy and efficient SIAM office, which has a remarkably low rate of staff turnover, Jim has been a fount of good advice for SIAM volunteers. He has provided support beyond the call of duty for SIAM officers and was always willing to help draft a document or attend a meeting in their place. I benefited hugely from Jim’s support and guidance during my terms as vice president-at-large and president. He also cares deeply about the history of SIAM and knows more about it than anyone else.

Under Jim’s leadership, SIAM has maintained a willingness to move quickly and exploit technological developments. SIAM was an early adopter of electronic publishing in the late 1990s, was quick to begin using social media in the late 2000s, and was one of the first societies to allow electronic voting in its elections.

One of the things I admire most about Jim is his ability to tactfully point out flaws in an idea that someone suggests without them taking the slightest offence. I’m still not sure how he does it.

Gilbert Strang (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): One type of leader (this does not describe my image of Jim) is full of untested ideas, urgent action, and “push.”  Those ideas turn into initiatives and the society is impelled to move, although general agreement may not have been reached. A forcing term has been introduced, something close to a point source. Another type of leader is more of a guide. There is space for others to have ideas. Instead of racing out front while the rest of the team tries to keep up, the leader and the society move together. Instead of a point source, there is constant support over a long time for the whole society. This is what Jim has given us. 

Jim should be proud of the results of his leadership, which brought about new activity groups, new books and journals, new members, and an expanded vision of SIAM. I believe that other, larger groups of computer scientists and engineers respect our society for the quality of its work.  On behalf of all the SIAM members who have felt Jim’s encouragement, support, and never-failing good will, I say thank you for 25 years of true leadership.

Jim Crowley (right) converses with Michelle Schwalbe (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) at the 2019 SIAM Conference on Computational Science and Engineering, which took place last year in Spokane, Wash. SIAM photo.
Margot Gerritsen (Stanford University): When I first joined the SIAM Council, I got a glimpse of what was happening behind the doors in the SIAM kitchen. Chef Jim seemed to effortlessly keep the office working by responding to new ideas from the many SIAM volunteers and frequently adding his own thoughts to the menu. He has been the strong and relatively hidden force of SIAM over the years, always working for the good of the society without seeking the limelight.

This became even more apparent as a member of the Board of Trustees, and now as chair of the Board. Jim has been fantastic: a wonderful leader to SIAM staff, a highly effective and responsible manager of SIAM affairs, a strong representative of SIAM in D.C., and a valuable liaison with peer organizations. He has also been a fabulous collaborator—always happy to provide insights and share experiences—and very responsive, often answering emails within the hour.

I cannot thank Jim enough for his dedication to SIAM and all of us. I’m so glad he will remain part of this community and look forward to raising a glass to him at a future SIAM meeting or conference. Cheers, Jim!

Margaret Wright (New York University): Jim and I first met at his interview for the position of SIAM’s executive director. At the time, I was vice president-at-large and thus a member of the search committee. After Jim left the room, committee members looked at one other and said, “He’s perfect!” And he was.

To reflect the “M” in SIAM, let me describe Jim’s contributions with an equation: \(\textrm{SIAM}+\textrm{jc} \gg \textrm{SIAM}\). SIAM is a much better and stronger organization because of Jim. One can actually describe his years at SIAM in terms of his mathematical research area: control, a field that addresses the behavior of a complex system and attempts to guide it to a desired outcome. In many ways, this is precisely the job of an executive director.

Jim practices adaptive control via a leadership style that combines stability, creativity, thoughtfulness, and progress. A crucial ingredient is his unshakable integrity. It has not always been smooth sailing, but through it all Jim has maintained both a strong sense of SIAM’s mission and a clear vision of the strategies and principles needed for SIAM to be effective in today’s world.

Finally, I can’t resist mentioning some lighthearted moments with Jim and Marty Golubitsky when we were planning SIAM’s 50th Anniversary and 2002 Annual Meeting. In an initial discussion of special events for the meeting, Jim (perhaps rashly) said that Marty and I could have “carte blanche.” We of course never wanted anything extravagant, but in later conversations Marty and I did not hesitate to utter the words “remember carte blanche,” always followed by gales of laughter from the three of us. 

Susan Palantino (SIAM): I have known Jim for almost 21 years as a remarkable leader and mentor. He has helped the society grow organically—increasing our imprint on applied math, computational science, and data science—and has successfully guided us through many changes and challenges, always motivated by SIAM’s mission. Over the years, I have found that when I disagree with him, he is usually right. He seems to possess an almost innate understanding of the community’s needs and desires with a remarkable veracity. His selfless, quiet yet convincing manner instills a sense of purpose in the staff and inspires them to make SIAM a place of excellence.

On behalf of both current and previous SIAM staff, I want to express our sincere gratitude to Jim for his leadership, openness, guidance, and intelligence, but most of all his ability to make everyone feel like they are a valuable contributor to SIAM. We will miss you!

Sam Gubins (Annual Review Investment Corporation): Reading the praise of Jim by my friends, my thought is “Enough already. Sure, Jim has been a great leader of SIAM for a quarter of a century, and I can add my own paean to my friend and colleague, but enough with the hero worship.” Let’s have a shout-out to the search committee of 1994, which wisely selected Jim to be our leader. SIAM has gone from strength to strength, as the committee clearly foresaw that Jim would be the ideal person to inspire the creativity of SIAM membership, leadership, and staff. So, thanks to both the search committee and to Jim, who may have lost the corner office but continues to serve SIAM as a loyal member. Bravo, search committee. Bravo, Jim.

We are incredibly grateful to Jim for his service and leadership, which have shaped SIAM into the robust society it is today, and wish him a happy and healthy retirement.

  Lina Sorg is the managing editor of SIAM News
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