Math Professor Honored by the University of Chicago

Ken Ono
Ken Ono, UVA's Marvin Rosenblum Professor of Mathematics, is a winner of the University of Chicago's prestigious Professional Achievement Award.

Later this month, the name of Ken Ono, the College’s Marvin Rosenblum Professor of Mathematics, will be added to the roster of distinguished alumni at the University of Chicago for his research in algebra, combinatorics and number theory. In a ceremony in May, Ono will receive the 2023 University of Chicago Alumni Award for Professional Achievement which will place him in the company of some of the university’s most notable alumni, a list that includes authors Carl Sagan, Studs Terkel and Kurt Vonnegut, actor Ed Asner, composer Philip Glass, “origin of life” chemist Stanley Miller, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.


The honor is one of many Ono has received, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Packard Fellowship, a Sloan Fellowship and a Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering for his work studying highly abstract mathematical problems involving patterns and properties of numbers that have perplexed mathematicians for centuries. A talented educator, Ono has also been named as a National Science Foundation Distinguished Teaching Scholar, the foundation’s highest honor for excellence in teaching and research.


Outside of his work at the University, Ono is the founder and director of the Spirit of Ramanujan Global STEM Talent Search, which supports emerging engineers, mathematicians and scientists who lack traditional institutional support through financial grants and mentorship opportunities, and building on his lifelong interest in Olympic sports, he is a technical consultant for elite swimmers and has advised multiple NCAA national champions and Olympic medalists.


For Ono, who admits he was a high-school dropout and wasn’t among the best students in his class at the University of Chicago, the university’s recognition of his achievements is a testament to some of the less tangible but no less important benefits of a college education.


“At Chicago, I was inspired by great professors and engaging friends, who taught me the value of inner-strength, who taught me to dream and who inspired me to try to do something with my life,” Ono said. “I started college thinking like a child. I started with self-doubt, and I was uncertain about my abilities. My college years in the 80s transformed me, and despite a below average GPA, I graduated with confidence, goals and a sense of purpose. At UVA we teach these same lessons. And just like the iconic University of Chicago campus, our hallowed grounds represent an enchanted place where uncertain students discover themselves and then venture into a competitive and unforgiving world equipped with tools they employ to do great things.”


The award comes shortly after Ono announced that he would step down as chair of the Department of Mathematics to assume a new role as STEM advisor the provost. Ono will continue to teach mathematics for the College, but he will take on the additional responsibility of helping to raise the visibility of faculty in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and their research at UVA.


“Ken’s energy and expertise will make him an outstanding ambassador for the University as we deepen our investments in STEM at UVA,” said Ian Baucom, the University's executive vice president and provost.