Jacob Abel, Professor and Ombudsman

Jacob M. Abel
June 3, 1936--March 8, 1996

Jacob M. Abel was a distinguished educator and scholar whose contributions extended well beyond his formal training in engineering and mathematics to include letters and the law. Fluent in French and German, widely read in English, knowledgeable in Sanskrit, a skillful writer, brilliant in applied mathematics, Professor Jacob Abel was the embodiment of the teacher-scholar spirit. He very recently and affectionately wrote about a few of the "self-exploited committed" at the University of Pennsylvania where he served for nearly 30 years on the faculty of the School of Engineering and Applied Science (Almanac, January 23, 1996). Jacob Abel epitomized such a person and influenced the lives of very many students, faculty, and staff.

Jacob M. Abel was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. on June 3, 1936 and received his education through secondary school in the New York City public schools. He went to RPI where he received a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degree in 1957. He worked as an engineer for a few years in California before returning to the East coast to join GE in Philadelphia in 1960. At that time he became a graduate student in Engineering Mechanics at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his Ph.D. in 1966 writing his dissertation under the supervision of Professor Maurice A. Brull. His thesis was of such outstanding quality that he was invited to join the faculty. He was appointed assistant professor of engineering mechanics in 1967. In the next several years, Dr. Abel established himself as an outstanding educator. He became a member of the American Society for Engineering Education and was recognized by them for his teaching excellence. He developed a special rapport with students which he never lost and they remember all their lives. One of his former students has written about Dr. Abel, "He is neither an historian nor a mathematician by profession, but he excels in these areas and has succeeded in marrying them in his teaching of mechanical engineering. He encourages students of engineering to become interested in the history of the tools they are using in their work (and to learn more about the unique personalities behind the accomplishments). In the process, he stimulates the less mathematically inclined students to become interested in mathematics and drives the more mathematically inclined students in the direction of application!"

Even in this early period of Professor Abel's career, his skills as a diplomat and peacemaker emerged, and throughout his career he was called upon to serve. It is significant that one of his favorite pictures is the Brooklyn Bridge--a view of which is prominently displayed in his office. Although Jacob Abel was an engineer, the bridges he built were between people. He was a healer of spirits and souls. Sheldon Hackney, former President of Penn has written, "I have always found Jake to be level-headed, calm in crisis, non-judgmental, able to listen to all sides, thoughtful, and sensitive--but also decisive and able to commit himself at the appropriate moment. When added to his depth of experience in University affairs and academic matters generally, these personal characteristics, and his unreproachable ethics, have made Jake an enormous asset to me and to the University of Pennsylvania." He was promoted in 1972 to Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. A few years later, he was the perfect choice to serve as Ombudsman for the University of Pennsylvania. In this period he also chaired the Personnel Benefits Committee and the University of Pennsylvania Chapter of AAUP. Countless other committees called upon Dr. Abel to contribute his wisdom and energy to their charge. Again, his virtuosity as a teacher was recognized by both school-wide (Reid Warren) and university- wide (Lindback) awards in 1975. In 1978, he answered the call to chair the department and graduate group in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics. In 1981, Professor Abel was promoted to full Professor and a few years later served the University in its highest elected faculty office, Chair of the Faculty Senate.

Professor Abel's research was always characterized by consummate attention to mathematical rigor. He has made lasting contributions to system stability and structural dynamics. More recently he had been involved in the design of robotic manipulators. Insight into his thoughts can be gained from a paragraph he has written on the topic. "One never appreciates the exquisite, subtle complexity of the human body until he tries to create a machine that can perform a human task...Something we take for granted so routinely in our lives, the ability to hold and manipulate an object, becomes a staggeringly complex problem of analysis and mechanical design. Little babies can do things without thinking that require pages and pages of equations to describe. The attempt to design and instruct a robotic manipulator that can even come close to having the dexterity of a human hand is a marvelous challenge and a humbling one."

In 1991-92, Dr. Jacob Abel served the nation as Program Director for Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation. When he returned to Penn, he served two years as Associate Dean for Educational Development and Special Programs. He created several new courses including a freshman seminar on the technological experience in literature and a discovery oriented laboratory. This was offered for the first time one year ago and it gave Dr. Abel great pleasure. Jacob Abel's commitment to education included the training of Philadelphia area elementary school science teachers who came to campus during summers as part of a Penn-Merck program. He was in the process of completely revising an introductory course in mechanical engineering he created years ago and writing an entirely new undergraduate mathematics curriculum when he was stricken by cancer and died on March 8, 1996.

His life, while all too short for the many he touched, was dedicated to worthy goals. He spoke often about having derived strength and his love for people from his wife, Evelyn, and his daughters, Trudi and Erica. He was a scholar, a teacher, and a dear friend. He made the best of every day, giving of himself to his family, his colleagues, and to the University he loved. He was a kind, persistent, caring human being--a mensch. All of us who knew and loved him will miss him for the rest of our own lives.

To perpetuate his memory, and in accordance with his family's wishes, the department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics has established the Jacob M. Abel Memorial Fund. The proceeds from this fund will be used to promote excellence in undergraduate education. Donations should be made payable to "The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania" with a notation that they are for this fund and sent to Dr. Ira M. Cohen, chair, MEAM department, 297 Towne Building, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6315.

-- Colleagues in the MEAM Department

Norman Palmer, International Political Scientist

Dr. Palmer, 1909-1996

Norman D. Palmer, a distinguished scholar and tenured member of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania from 1947 to 1979 died in Seattle on February 2l.

He was New England American, firm in his views, dedicated to his country, generous in his teaching, and committed to an international "community" of scholars.

He was born in Hinckley, Maine, in 1909, graduated from Colby College, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, where he taught history and government from 1933. His graduate study was at Yale where he held the Currier Fellowship.

During World War II, he served as an Air Combat Intelligence Officer, received three combat stars, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, and retired from active duty in 1946 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Throughout his career he was a consultant to the Department of State.

Thousands of students in America and abroad learned their basics in international politics from "Palmer and Perkins" (Howard C.). Their text, International Relations: The World Community in Transition, had its first edition in 1953 and its last in 1969. It also had British and Indian editions. The Indian Political System was the standard in the United States and Britain for nearly two decades.

Professor Palmer was revered in India. He lived, conducted research, and taught there over five years, assuming in 1952 one of the first visiting Fulbright Professorships in political science at the University of New Delhi. He later taught at Bombay University and lectured in all areas of India, often as Senior Fellow of the American Institute of Indian Studies. He also held visiting appointments at several American universities as well as at the American University in Cairo. In 1974 he was Visiting Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Duke University.

He was a Fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations the Guggenheim Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He served as President of the National Council of Asian Affairs and the International Studies Association.

He joined the Political Science Department at Penn in 1947 as an associate professor, becoming full professor in 1951. He was chairman of the department, l949-52, and a founder and then chairman of the International Relations Graduate Group (1959-66). He was the coordinator of the University of Pennsylvania--University of Karachi Project from 1954-59. One of the leading scholars of South Asia at the University of Pennsylvania, which had pioneered in South Asian studies, he was an active member of the Department of South Asia Studies.

Professor Palmer was active in international affairs as a member of the boards of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, and Philadelphia Council for International Visitors. In 1975 he started and directed until his retirement in 1979 an extensive research project, the Philadelphia Transnational Project, which focused on international linkages in the Delaware Valley.

He moved to Washington state to be near his daughter, Patricia Lee Baisch. After the death of his wife Evelyn, he married Gurina McIhrath. Also surviving are a sister, Mary Mills, stepsons and stepdaughters.

During his retirement Professor Palmer continued a vigorous life of professional activity, traveling, attending conferences, and lecturing. He also published three books, the last of which, The New Regionalism in Asia and the Pacific completed his written legacy to scholars around the world, hundreds of whom were colleagues he kept contact with for more than a half century. --Henry Teune


March 19, 1996
Volume 42 Number 24

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