MAA Focus Dec 2009/ Jan 2010 : Page 10

     n Tuesday, September 22, Sylvia Bozeman of Spelman College, Carlos Castillo-Chavez of Arizona State Uni- versity, and I gave a congressional briefi ng on “Undergraduate Mathematics: Promising Recruitment and Retention Strategies to Ensure Diversity in the STEM Pipeline.” Th is was done at the request of Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, Chairman of the Subcom- mittee onHigher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competi- tiveness for the House Committee on Education and Labor. Details of the presentations can be found at  . At issue is the fact that we are losing ground in attracting wom- en as well as African, Hispanic, and Native Americans to the STEM disciplines [science, technology, engineering, or math- ematics] in general and mathematics in particular. Aft er a great deal of progress during the 1980s and ’90s, the gap between the number of men and women majoring in mathematics or statistics has begun to widen (graph 1). After considerable improvement in the number of African-Americans majoring in mathematics or statistics during the 1990s, the past decade has witnessed a substantial decrease in their absolute numbers (graph 2). More data and comparison with other groups can be found in my Launchings columns for September and October of this year [1,2]. On the whole, mathematics departments have not done enough to recruit students to take challenging mathematics in college nor to encourage them to persevere with their mathemat- ics. It is not just that students are not up to the challenges of col- lege mathematics. In a 2001–06 study at Arizona State University, “Forty-three percent of students who receive an A in precalculus and who had declared a STEM major that requires calculus chose not to take calculus. In other words, even the very best students in precalculus who thought they wanted to enter a STEM major are leaving STEM.” [3] Th is was a real wake-up call at ASU, resulting in an overhaul of the supervision of this course and a close exami- nation of the precalculus curriculum and instruction and of the training of those who teach it. It is not enough to identify and improve courses that actively discourage students fromcontinuing in mathematics. The solu- tion—not just for getting women and students fromunderrep- resented minorities into mathematics, but for the future health of our discipline—is to focus on recruitment and retention. As Professors Bozeman and Castillo-Chavez explained, we know how to get greater numbers of students to succeed in mathematics, science, and engineering. In addition to the scholarship programs that make it fi nancially possible for students to attend college, we need active recruitment, mentoring, community building, research opportunities, encouragement through transition points, and programs that introduce students to interdisciplinary options. Wil- liamVelez at the University of Arizona has shown how effective active recruitment can be. Uri Treisman of the University of Texas, Austin, and the many people who have adapted and expanded his \UE

From The President: MAA Speaks Out on Capitol Hill

On Tuesday, September 22, Sylvia Bozeman of Spelman College, Carlos Castillo-Chavez of Arizona State University, and I gave a congressional briefi ng on “Undergraduate Mathematics: Promising Recruitment and Retention Strategies to Ensure Diversity in the STEM Pipeline.” Th is was done at the request of Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness for the House Committee on Education and Labor.<br /> <br /> Details of the presentations can be found at ........................ ........................................... At issue is the fact that we are losing ground in attracting women as well as African, Hispanic, and Native Americans to the STEM disciplines [science, technology, engineering, or mathematics] in general and mathematics in particular. Aft er a great deal of progress during the 1980s and ’90s, the gap between the number of men and women majoring in mathematics or statistics has begun to widen (graph 1). Aft er considerable improvement in the number of African-Americans majoring in mathematics or statistics during the 1990s, the past decade has witnessed a substantial decrease in their absolute numbers (graph 2). More data and comparison with other groups can be found in my Launchings columns for September and October of this year [1,2].<br /> <br /> On the whole, mathematics departments have not done enough to recruit students to take challenging mathematics in college nor to encourage them to persevere with their mathematics.<br /> <br /> It is not just that students are not up to the challenges of college mathematics. In a 2001–06 study at Arizona State University, “Forty-three percent of students who receive an A in precalculus and who had declared a STEM major that requires calculus chose not to take calculus. In other words, even the very best students in precalculus who thought they wanted to enter a STEM major are leaving STEM.” [3] Th is was a real wake-up call at ASU, resulting in an overhaul of the supervision of this course and a close examination of the precalculus curriculum and instruction and of the training of those who teach it.<br /> <br /> It is not enough to identify and improve courses that actively discourage students from continuing in mathematics. Th e solution— not just for getting women and students from underrepresented minorities into mathematics, but for the future health of our discipline—is to focus on recruitment and retention. As Professors Bozeman and Castillo-Chavez explained, we know how to get greater numbers of students to succeed in mathematics, science, and engineering. In addition to the scholarship programs that make it fi nancially possible for students to attend college, we need active recruitment, mentoring, community building, research opportunities, encouragement through transition points, and programs that introduce students to interdisciplinary options. William Velez at the University of Arizona has shown how eff ective active recruitment can be. Uri Treisman of the University of Texas, Austin, and the many people who have adapted and expanded his Emerging Scholars Program have shown how to build supportive communities that help students build the skills and confi dence that enable them to succeed.<br /> <br /> Both Professors Bozeman and Castillo-Chavez used their presentations to focus on the multiple positive eff ects of involving students in undergraduate research: It attracts and inspires students while giving them a clear sense of why they need mathematics and what they can do with it. Th ey also spoke of the need to mentor students, especially through the diffi cult transition points from high school to college, from calculus-level to advanced undergraduate mathematics, into graduate school, and on to research positions.<br /> <br /> Th e Arizona State University Institute for Strengthening the Understanding of Mathematics and Science (SUMS) together with the Mathematical and Th eoretical Biology Institute (MTBI), both of which are directed by Professor Castillo-Chavez, have been particularly successful at this vertical integration. Fift y-six of their alumni have completed PhD’s in the mathematical sciences, and 41 of these 56 are individuals from underrepresented minorities.<br /> <br /> Introducing students to interdisciplinary options fi res their imaginations and can lead them to work on important, tractable problems that have been neglected precisely because they lie within the interstices of the traditional disciplines.<br /> <br /> Th e fi nal message of this briefi ng was that it is no longer suffi cient to run successful pilot projects. Th e National Science Foundation came in for repeated praise for providing the seed money that has enabled us to understand what works and how to make it work, but now the time has come to scale up these successful endeavors.<br /> <br /> As Castillo-Chavez said, “We have to produce large numbers of extremely well-qualifi ed scientists and mathematicians. It’s not going to take place at the elite universities, but at schools with limited resources.” Rep. Hinojosa spoke of the need to engage business and industry with government and our universities in order to bring this about.<br /> <br /> Recruitment into and retention within mathematics are issues that we need to address for all of our students, but they are especially critical for students who look over the faculty of the mathematics department and do not see anyone who looks like them, who look at the mathematics majors or the members of the math club and wonder whether they can fi t in. Not all students who arrive at college are interested in or prepared for a STEM career, but we are not doing all that we can and should for those who are.

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