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EDITORS: This release was written by science writing intern Czerne M. Reid. A photo of Sunseri is available at

Mathematics Professor Emerita Mary Sunseri dies

Mary Virginia Sunseri, professor emerita of mathematics, died Oct. 16 at her San Jose, Calif., home after a long battle with cancer. She was 87.

"Professor Sunseri was one of Stanford's legendary teachers, revered by generations of students who were fortunate enough to have learned calculus in one of her classes," said Mathematics Department Chair Richard Schoen.

Sunseri, an award-winning teacher who had been described as "one of Stanford's true institutions," was born on May 29, 1916, at the same home in which she died.

Her life reflected a philosophy she described to students on Class Day in 1984: "You do best at what you enjoy doing most. It's how you feel about yourself that counts most."

After earning her bachelor's degree at San Jose State College (now University) she entered Stanford, where she earned her master's degree in 1940. She then returned to San Jose State to teach for a year. In 1943, she accepted a faculty position to teach freshman calculus and other undergraduate courses in mathematical analysis at Stanford, where she spent the rest of her professional career.

Sunseri, who was appointed assistant professor in 1955, associate professor in 1969 and professor in 1979, amassed honors over several decades. She won the Walter J. Gores Award for excellence in teaching in 1972 and the Dean's Award for distinguished teaching in 1979. She retired in 1986.

Sunseri served on the Faculty Senate in the 1970s as well as on many committees including the Undergraduate Affairs Committee, the Undergraduate Council of the School of Engineering, the Committee on Academic Appraisal and Achievement, the Monday Conversation Leaders Committee of the Stanford Faculty Club and the Committee on the Status of Emeriti.

Mathematics Professor Emeritus Robert Osserman called Sunseri "a source of guidance in matters personal as well as mathematical." Perhaps for this reason, she was chosen by graduating seniors in 1984 as a faculty speaker for Class Day. In 1986 students further honored her for outstanding teaching in an exhibit titled "Remarkable Teachers at Stanford."

Sunseri was a member of the Northern California Section of the Mathematical Association of America. Over the years she served as section vice chair and chair, program chair for the annual meeting and member of the association's national board of governors. She also was a member of the American Mathematical Society and of the Pi Lambda Theta national honor society for women in education, and was adviser for the Stanford chapter in 1953.

In 1997, John T. and Barbara Bentley Packard of Los Altos Hills endowed a professorship in Sunseri's honor. Also in 1997, Sunseri established the Leo F. Sunseri Men's Basketball Scholarship in memory of her brother, who was her only sibling. In 1998, she set up the Mary V. Sunseri Graduate Fellowship for female graduate students in the Department of Mathematics.

Sunseri had no surviving relatives. A funeral Mass was held earlier this month.

Donations may be made in Sunseri's memory to the Mary V. Sunseri Graduate Fellowship, Department of Mathematics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-2125; the Leo F. Sunseri Men's Basketball Scholarship, Department of Athletics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6150; or the American Cancer Society, 1715 S. Bascom Ave., Suite 100, Campbell, CA 95008.


Czerne M. Reid is a News Service intern.


By Czerne M. Reid

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