Next-generation maths education

Kerry Landman

With her living bequest, Professor Kerry Landman – the first female professor in the University’s mathematics department – aims to share the beauty of maths by supporting future teachers in the field.

A first-generation Australian whose parents were both wartime European refugees, Professor Kerry Landman keenly remembers a story her mother used to tell about the generosity she received when her family first came to Australia and couldn’t afford her school fees.

“The headmistress said not to worry about it,” Kerry says. “She gave my mother a full scholarship and said her parents could pay whatever they could afford once they had settled into their new lives.

“My mother went on to study dentistry at the University of Melbourne, and when she received her first pay packet as a dentist, she gave it to the school.”

This story was instilled in Kerry from childhood.

“As children, we always knew that you give back,” she says.

Through the establishment of a mathematics teaching scholarship and ensuring its long-term future through a gift in her Will, Kerry continues to promote her family’s philanthropic values.

The Kerry Landman Scholarship supports high-achieving mathematics graduates who are passionate about education, and who have the potential to become leaders in a school setting. With the scholarship, she aims to address the shortage of trained teachers with a background in mathematics, who can inspire and empower their students – and their teaching peers.

“Having good maths teachers makes a huge difference,” she says. “It’s so important that teachers understand the importance of teaching foundational mathematics and how mathematics can be used. Students can then appreciate the potential of what mathematics has to offer.

“Most people‘s reaction to my saying I am a mathematician, is ‘Oh, I hated it’, or ‘I was hopeless at it’ – or they shut their mind to it. I mean, they just wouldn’t say that if you’d said you like reading!”

Kerry’s own interest in mathematics started at an early age, and she still vividly remembers the thrill of encountering geometry for the first time with Mrs Kneebone in Grade 6. There was never any question that she wouldn’t pursue maths at university.

Encountering the rigours of mathematics at the University of Melbourne, Kerry thrived, believing that, “If you are studying a subject that you really love and have a passion for, you’ll work at it and do well, and opportunities will arise.”

That guiding belief led to the unfolding of many interesting, and unforeseen, opportunities in Kerry’s career. After completing her PhD, she received a post-doctoral appointment in the USA at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

“That was when I really figured out what sort of mathematician I wanted to be,” she says, attributing the interdisciplinary approach of her colleague, Professor Harvey Greenspan, with her desire to pursue applied mathematics, maths within a real-world context – for example, biology, the environment or industry.

Kerry’s distinguished contribution to research into real-world problems spans a range of fields, from colloidal fluid mechanics to developmental biology. She’s a recipient of the ANZIAM (Australia and New Zealand Industrial and Applied Mathematics) medal, as well as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences.

Kerry has also been an outstanding role model for women mathematicians. Returning to the University of Melbourne in the mid-1980s, she was the only female lecturer in the maths department. In 2007, she became the first female professor in the School of Mathematics and Statistics at the University.

“The first time I experienced a female professor – Nancy Kopell – was when I was at MIT,” she says. “That was the first time I’d seen a woman mathematician in a senior role.”

Things have changed, thankfully. “We slowly appointed more female lecturers in mathematics,” Kerry adds, “and things have really changed at Melbourne in the last few years.

“But how can young women who want to become mathematicians or have a career in mathematics succeed if they don’t see those role models?” Kerry reflects, commenting that diversity is vital to any field, including maths.

Now retired, though still actively involved in the University, Kerry remains passionate about education.

“It’s my hope and vision that the recipients of my scholarship will passionately communicate the beauty and applications of mathematics to encourage, inspire and support their students to succeed,” she says.

“Success and confidence with mathematics develops an incredible skill set – the ability to have an impact in solving problems in different fields.”

From Mrs Kneebone to her mentors at MIT and at the University, Kerry is deeply appreciative of the inspirational teachers and colleagues who have shaped her career.

“I had many role models who supported me in so many ways,” she says. “I’m hoping that my scholarship will develop teachers that have this kind of influence in their students’ lives.”

For further information about including a gift to the University in your Will, or making a living bequest in your lifetime, please call the Gifts in Wills team on +61 3 9035 3489 or email

Pictured above: Professor Kerry Landman. Photo by Bec Walton.