December 13, 2021

Lead Gifts Received for Fund to Honor the Late Ellis Cumberbatch and Support Math Faculty

PROFESSORSHIP FUND LAUNCHED: A fundraising effort is under way to establish the Ellis Cumberbatch Professorship in honor of Cumberbatch, a beloved longtime member of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences faculty, who passed away this fall. (Photo credit: Tom Zasadzinski)

Claremont Graduate University (CGU) announces that lead gifts have been secured for a fund to create the Ellis Cumberbatch Professorship, which will support a faculty position in mathematics in CGU’s Institute of Mathematical Sciences (IMS).

With gifts and commitments of well over $200,000 each from IMS alumni and faculty—specifically Daniel Pick (MS, Mathematics, ’95), Haisheng (Shawn) Luo (PhD, Mathematics, ’95), and IMS Professor Allon Percus—the fund will be used to establish a professorship that honors the legacy of Cumberbatch, a beloved member of the IMS faculty who held many roles at CGU over 40 years, including as dean, program architect, and director of the Mathematics Clinic.

Cumberbatch is credited with significantly revitalizing the IMS and championing the collaborative spirit that has come to define the mathematics research community at the Claremont Colleges. He passed away this fall at the age of 87.

“Ellis set a tone and focus at IMS that have made us unique in the discipline,” said Percus. “I can’t think of anything he would have found more rewarding than the thought of our coming together to secure a thriving future for the programs he worked tirelessly to build.”

Once the professorship is established, it will provide annual financial assistance—including salary and a stipend to support research, graduate assistantships, and other scholarly activities—to a faculty member holding the Ellis Cumberbatch Professorship, with the goal of fully supporting a tenured position in the IMS.

Thus far, the lead gifts, in conjunction with several additional gifts, have brought the fund total to nearly $1 million.

AN ENDURING LEGACY: CGU President Len Jessup (left) with two of the three lead supporters of the fund for the Ellis Cumberbatch Professorship: IMS alumnus Daniel Pick (center) and IMS Professor Allon Percus. Not pictured is IMS alumnus Shawn Luo.

A Celebration and an Announcement

The initiative to establish the Ellis Cumberbatch Professorship was announced by Pick during a celebration of Cumberbatch’s life held December 11 at the home of CGU President Len Jessup. The event was attended by guests that included not only Cumberbatch’s friends and family, colleagues at CGU, and the university’s math alumni, but also members of the math community from The Claremont Colleges.

It was Pick, a computational biologist, bioinformaticist, and scientific software developer, who first called for the creation of the professorship after learning of his former professor and mentor’s passing. Pick said that Cumberbatch had been a significant influence on his life.

Jessup said he was eternally grateful to Pick—and to those who were inspired by his efforts and joined him—for finding a way to honor Cumberbatch with an endowment that will support IMS faculty for many years to come.

“Ellis was instrumental to the math program on our campus and throughout the Claremont Colleges,” Jessup said, “and I’m sincerely thankful to Dan and to Shawn, Allon, and Ellis’s other supporters for kickstarting a special way to honor him in our community. A fund like this will become a true living legacy.”

While the fund is off to a robust start, Jessup and the university’s development team welcome additional support so that the professorship can one day fully maintain a tenured faculty position in the IMS.

AN INSTITUTE AND A FAMILY: Cumberbatch is credited with setting a close-knit, supportive, and collegial tone among the members of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences (pictured here, from left, are Professors Henry Schellhorn, Marina Chugunova, Cumberbatch, John Angus, Ali Nadim, and Allon Percus.

A Lasting Legacy

For 40 years, Cumberbatch was an active member of CGU who sought to create a collegial, collaborative, and supportive atmosphere for the university’s math community.

“IMS’ identity has drawn so much not only from the programs Ellis built but also from the tone he set for our department,” Percus said. “During my 13 years at CGU, he was the colleague that I most relied on for trusted advice.”

In addition to his own research on areas including differential equations, fluid mechanics, and industrial modeling, Cumberbatch saw the importance of providing students with solid real-world applications for their study. He cared just as deeply about the future of the profession, advocating incessantly for outreach programs such as Gateway to Exploring Mathematical Sciences (GEMS) that introduced eighth, ninth, and tenth grade students in the surrounding area to the richness and diversity of the mathematical sciences.

Together with Jerry Spanier, he built the institute’s applied mathematics program. He directed the Claremont Mathematics Clinic, which enlists faculty-student teams in solving specific industrial problems submitted by participating companies. Some of these sponsors include Southern California Edison, Boeing, JPL, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. He also created the joint PhD program in Engineering and Computational Mathematics, an innovative partnership with California State University Long Beach that continues to flourish.

Math in Claremont is one community, said Allon Percus, “and Ellis was instrumental in building that community into what it is today.”

Cumberbatch’s efforts to foster a collegial, close-knit math community extended well beyond CGU to the entire Claremont Colleges. He was the co-founder, with Bob Borrelli at Harvey Mudd College, of the Claremont Center for the Mathematical Sciences (CCMS), an organization that promotes collaboration among the members of Claremont’s six independent math programs.

“Math in Claremont really is one community,” Percus said, “and Ellis was instrumental in building that community into what it is today.”

Pick believes that the professorship—along with the CCMS, applied math program, and many other programs—will be part of Cumberbatch’s enduring legacy.

“His influence on me was profound. It changed my life,” he said, “and this professorship will be another important way of recognizing someone who left such a positive mark not just on his students but also on the way math is taught in Claremont.”

  • For anyone interested in supporting Cumberbatch’s memory with a donation to the fund for the Ellis Cumberbatch Professorship, please contact IMS Professor Allon Percus at or 909-607-0744 and Associate Vice President of Development Anthony Todarello at or 909-607-9230