SIAM News Blog

Obituaries: Carla Dee Martin

The applied mathematics community suffered a major loss when Carla Dee Martin (nee Moravitz) was killed under tragic circumstances on October 27, 2015. Carla was a devoted mother, daughter, friend, mathematician, educator, outdoorswoman, and musician. She leaves behind three young children.

Carla was born on December 2, 1972 and graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in applied mathematics in 1995. After graduating, she became a consultant in the Management Analytics group at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (now IBM Business Consulting Services).  Quoting her from a Mathematical Association of America career profile, "I wanted a job in which I could use mathematics and had the opportunity to work with many different people. I discovered that the field of consulting was ideal for this because it allowed me to participate in many different projects." At Pricewaterhouse, Carla turned herself into what would now be called a data scientist. An updated profile of Carla from the MAA is also available.

The picture is from Carla's Facebook page, posted on January 10, 2014, along with the following note: "Taught 120 fifth graders (son included) some fun math today. Even got to take a REAL Enigma machine (pictured) and taught them how to use it. I might be a math nerd, but after class one of the kids told me I was the coolest mom ever!! I'll take it! :)"

Carla enrolled in the Center for Applied Mathematics at Cornell University starting in fall of 1999, and many of us originally met her during that time. The fond memories from Cornell (and since then) are plentiful, and we treasure the many discussions on CAM's purple couches, later encounters at conferences, and our other shared experiences. Carla completed her PhD under Charlie Van Loan of the Computer Science department. Her PhD dissertation (earned in 2005) covered various Kronecker-product algorithms and an interesting Jacobi procedure for computing a Tucker representation with "compression" (see her papers here, here, and here). Carla became an active member of SIAM and of the applied linear algebra community.

Carla joined the Mathematics & Statistics faculty at James Madison University and rose to the rank of associate professor before leaving to join the National Security Agency in 2012. At JMU, Carla continued her work on tensor computation, writing papers on tensor rank and tensor decompositions. For example, her co-authored work on the "T-product" (see here and here) involves an interesting and useful block-circulant framework. Along with one of us, Carla also wrote an expository article on the singular value decomposition that has been used as teaching material at several universities.

Carla was a popular, dedicated, and inspiring teacher at JMU, and students and colleagues raved about her work both inside and outside the classroom. As her colleague Paul Warne writes: "She was laser focused, tireless, indescribably efficient, and 'prolific' doesn’t even come close to communicating the volumes of publishable, hands-on, tangible, real-world teaching resources she was able to create." In her teaching debut at JMU, Carla taught a course that is notorious both for being challenging to students and for being difficult to teach.  The course blends structured programming with elementary numerical methods and is intended to help students mature in their mathematical rigor and skill. Dave Pruett, another JMU colleague, writes: "Carla's first-time evaluations were the highest I've ever seen in that course –– absolutely stellar. The students loved her, despite her demanding a great deal from them.” Pruett adds, “Carla had the most natural way of interacting with students, simultaneously challenging, patient, and nurturing.”

Outside the classroom, Carla was actively engaged in education and outreach and in connecting mathematics and industry. She led numerous undergraduate research projects at JMU, and she impacted myriad middle-school girls in Virginia and neighboring states by cofounding the first Expanding Your Horizons Conference held in Virginia. Carla served on numerous panels on employment in mathematics and maintained contact with employers of mathematicians. She wrote the article, "What Can I Do with a Math Degree?" in MAA Focus, and was featured in "101 Careers in Mathematics" by Andrew Sterrett and on the website of the Project for Nonacademic Employment, which is overseen by the Mathematical Association of America. Carla also spoke at several sessions devoted to mathematics in industry at the Joint Mathematics Meetings.

Carla inspired many students during numerous visits to schools and colleges, where she spoke about her experiences. (In the NSA's outreach program, Carla was often requested by name to attend.) Carla coauthored the book Keeping it R.E.A.L.: Research Experiences for All Learners, which is a collection of computational classroom projects carefully designed to inspire critical thinking and mathematical inquiry. Carla was also active in the Association for Women in Mathematics, and this year she helped organize a successful session on Government Labs at the AWM Research Symposium. She was a huge proponent of publicizing mathematical applications in industry, both in talks and in print, and also served as the VP of Programs in BIG SIGMAA.

Carla's talent and zeal also extended to hiking and other outdoor activities, music, and her family. In graduate school, she was a first-rate climbing instructor for the Cornell Outdoor Education program. Carla was an active violinist and enjoyed teaching math and music to her three children. In 2011, after moving from Harrisonburg, VA, Carla became First Violinist for the Columbia Orchestra.

Online donations to help Carla's parents care for her children are appreciated. To donate money, go to

Acknowledgements: We thank Minah Oh, Dave Pruett, Charlie Van Loan, Debra Warne, and Paul Warne for sharing their memories and providing helpful comments and information.

Written by Alumns from the Center for Applied Mathematics at Cornell University.

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