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Professor Juan Schäffer

We invite you to leave your thoughts, memories and condolences below. We will be sharing them with his family, as well as posting them on this page.

It is with great sadness and fond memories that the Board of Directors of PGSS Campaign, Inc. notes the death of Juan Jorge Schäffer, who passed away on February 12, 2017. Truly, Juan was both a gentleman and friend to many PGSS staff and alumni. 

A longtime Professor of Mathematics at Carnegie Mellon University, Juan began his service at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences in 1986. For many years he served as both an elective lecturer and team project instructor for Math team projects at PGSS. Juan took great pride and pleasure in working at PGSS, referring to the program as “the high point” of each year’s interaction with students. He transformed his personal satisfaction into a bestowed gravitas each year, when he announced each graduating PGSS student by name at the closing ceremony, with perfect pronunciation and the clearest of diction. 
Juan was quick to note that the aspect of PGSS he appreciated the most was that it encouraged students to learn the importance of collaboration. Juan, your enthusiasm and dedication will be sorely missed, but we will continue to support PGSS, the program to which you so generously gave your time and talents.

Details about Dr. Schaffer's memorial service can be found in his obituary.

Dr. Schaffer gave an interview for our blog back in 2014.

Fr. Noah Waldman

(PGSS 1986 Math Team "Euler's Formula")

I was fortunate to have been at PGSS in 1986, Dr. Schaffer's first year in the program. He seemed to live and breathe mathematics, which he loved with a passion I have rarely seen in any professor. I recall how he would smile with exuberance when he would get an insight into some mathematical problem.  Yet he was most joyful, and his smile most broad, when he was teaching. He loved transforming his students into mature mathematicians. For a time, he and I exchanged letters in Spanish (his handwriting was the most beautiful I have ever seen). His passing is a great loss for Carnegie-Mellon, for all who love mathematics, and for all whose lives he touched.

Alfred Schnabel

Dr. Schäffer was both a brilliant academic and a dedicated educator. Although his math elective was (and probably still is) over my head, he did show me the math is more than just crunching numbers. I was so glad to hear that he was still a part of the program when it came back in 2013. He really did enjoy teaching teenagers. I remember him talking to students and parents alike at Closing Ceremonies.  He is irreplaceable.

Timothy Keebler

Dr. Schäffer had a problem he liked to give to students on the first day of one of his electives. It was a finite telescoping series that collapsed to zero, and the problem was so named. He wrote the problem on the board under the large title "Problem ZERO," and we all began attempting to solve it. Finally, one student found the connection between the title and the mathematical solution, and when they shared with the class, Dr. Schäffer just lit up like a light. He was so happy and proud of the student, and smiled widely. It was that way after every solution; he took such delight in the success of his students, and enjoyed the precession of struggle to resolution as we learned under his guidance. His gift was for teaching, because he valued the students above all else. He became somewhat of a legend amongst the students, because of his unique personality, and we even included reference to him when we painted the fence.

Laura Mike (nee Anzaldi)

(PGSS '03)

Dr. Schaffer's love and passion for PGSS students does not go unforgotten. May his soul rest in peace.

Kenji Taylor

(PGSS '02)

Amazing professor who helped me enjoy math! 

Madie Greer

(Math Problem Seminar)

I am really grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from Professor Schäffer. His class was very interesting, and with both the cool math problems he selected and his explanations, I looked forward to each class with him.

Casey Harris

(PGSS '94 -- Math Team Project)

Professor Schaffer was a giant of a man, intellectually and on a personal level. While my interactions with him were sadly limited to the five weeks of our program that year, I so much enjoyed the time spent learning from him and especially remember his taking each of the team members into his home for a lovely breakfast furnished by his dear wife. He was a kind man who showed a great deal of patience to me when I didn't grasp the concepts immediately, and I knew I was dealing with someone who had a greater sphere of influence than just on us who were lucky enough to spend some time with him in a summer seminar. My greatest condolences to the Schaffer family at this time. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

Allen Janis

(PGSS Staff for "a number of years")

It was indeed a pleasure to have known Juan.  His quick and imaginative mind was an inspiration.

Suvir Mirchandani

(Origins of Mathematical Ideas elective.)

Professor Schäffer was one-of-a-kind.  His service as a professor in the PGSS program was unparalleled, and all the students, teaching assistants, and faculty had such a deep respect for him.

Dr. Schäffer's eagerness to impart his immense knowledge in mathematics, language, and history was visible in his elective, Origins of Mathematical Ideas.  I fondly recall Dr. Schäffer's elaborate stories and his endearing sense of humor.  His range of knowledge was remarkable.  I remember last question to our class: whether we had any questions about any problem in any area of mathematics.

I knew Dr. Schäffer prior to PGSS due to his involvement as a volunteer judge with the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair.  A judging interview with Dr. Schäffer was nerve-racking experience – he had a keen intuition and ability to sense what students thoroughly knew.  But this reflected Dr. Schäffer's commitment to the internalization and deep understanding of the material.

I am confident that this spirit of learning purveyed by Dr. Schäffer as an educator and as a person will continue on in the legions of lives he impacted.

Terence Rokop

(Took Mathematical Studies from Dr. Schäffer at CMU in the 1990s.)

Though it was math he taught, not computer science, Dr. Schäffer was probably the most important teacher I ever had to my career in programming.  Whatever quality my code has ever attained is a tribute to the logical rigor and clarity he instilled.  And for all my awe of his unapproachable intellect, his humor and humanity were sources of many of my fondest memories of college.  Even for a student who last heard him lecture two decades ago, his loss is immense.

Rishi Mirchandani

(PGSS '14. Mathematics Problem Seminar and did the Classification of Associative Two-Dimensional Algebras project. Also met him in 2012 and 2013 at the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair.)

Prof. Schäffer was truly one of a kind. I actually encountered him twice before PGSS, when he judged me at the Pittsburgh Regional Science and Engineering Fair. The first year, he found several errors in my project and ripped it apart - but the second year, he recommended me for the International Science and Engineering Fair, which turned out to be a life-changing experience. In both years, he stood out as a judge because of how closely he had studied my paper. He went above and beyond his responsibility as a judge. He took the opportunity not just to seek out new mathematical talent but also to thoroughly understand a new branch of mathematics for intellect's sake. At PGSS itself, I became much more mathematically mature in just five weeks under Prof. Schäffer's instruction. That was quite recently - in 2014 - and I was consistently stunned at how someone his age could still be so incredibly sharp!! I truly owe a great deal to him. This loss is a monumental one; Prof. Schäffer will be dearly missed and powerfully celebrated for many years to come.

Terry Tai

(PGSS '00. Elective Seminar)

Prof. Schäffer was one of my favorite professors at PGSS back in....2000? His lectures were witty, and they opened my eyes to totally new worlds of mathematics. Thanks for everything, Prof. Schäffer.

Songela Chen

(Mathematics Problem Solving elective class.)

I remember clearly when Prof. Schäffer posed to our class the problem of a chess board missing two opposite corners and asked whether one could rearrange the remaining spaces on the grid in such a way that the two missing spaces were adjacent and the rest of the board intact. Every detail of the problem was important: the elegant solution was that the two opposite corners of a chess board are the same color, so such a rearrangement is impossible. In posing this problem, Prof. Schäffer showed me how to think creatively and deeply about a problem, a beautiful process that I continue to use and that I am forever grateful to Prof. Schäffer for his teaching.

Christa Beranek

(PGSS '93)

I was a member of one of Dr. Shaffer's projects, though I just barely grasped the math. I very fondly remember him and his wife inviting the whole project team to brunch at their home, which was very home-y and welcoming, and a great treat for a high school student away from home for the first extended period of time.

Devin Dikec

(History of Mathematics elective elective)

I was told by the teaching assistants that Prof. Schäffer spoke more than five languages. I decided to ask him how many different languages he spoke and his answer was "only one at a time". Prof. Schäffer brought humor and humility consistently into the classroom and I am deeply saddened by his passing.

Alan Yang

(PGSS '13 -- Problem Solving Elective)

Prof. Schaffer's expansive knowledge as an expert mathematician and a polyglot was rivaled only by his wisdom and his kindness. He was one of my role models, and I will always remember him and his sweet smile.