For roughly half a century, Henry Pollak has comfortably straddled the line between mathematician and mathematics educator. Pollak had a distinguished career as a staff member and then head of Mathematics and Statistics Research at Bell Laboratories, but it was when his love of mathematics spilled over into the world of education that he had the most impact on teachers of mathematics and their students.
Many important landmarks in U.S. mathematics education in the last half of the 20th century bear Pollak's imprint. Starting in the 1950s, he took an active role in revising the mathematical curriculum at every level and applying the mathematics taught in the classroom to practical problems. Pollak contributed to the development of a precalculus curriculum that introduced data analysis as a fundamental topic of study, and that innovation continues to shape precalculus mathematics today.
Pollak was the first president of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) who was not an academic. During the 1980s, he also helped to define and run the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation's Summer Mathematics Institutes, where a decision in 1984 to focus on statistics has had a lasting impact on statistics education in the United States. Moreover, no American has been more active in international efforts in education. His participation in dozens of international conferences included his chairmanship of the 1980 International Congress on Mathematical Education (ICME) at Berkeley.
Pollak retired from a successor of Bell Laboratories in 1986 after a distinguished 35-year career, and the very next year, he began his second career as a visiting professor of mathematics education at Teachers College, Columbia University. He is the author of more than 40 technical papers on analysis, function theory, probability theory, and mathematics education.