Association for Women in Mathematics Written Testimony
Ruth Charney, President-Elect; Maghnild Lien, Executive Director; and Jill Pipher, President
The Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) is a non-profit organization with over 3,000 individual, student, and institutional members. The purpose of the Association is to encourage women and girls to study and to have active careers in the mathematical sciences, and to promote equal opportunity and the equal treatment of women and girls in the mathematical sciences.
AWM has a strong history of attention to diversity issues. We have had a significant number of women of color in leadership positions, we participate actively in variety of programs aimed at increasing diversity, and we have a record of honoring women of color for their contributions to mathematics or math education.
AWM also works closely with other non-profit organizations to further these goals. In particular, the Mathematics Institutes in the US and Canada, which sponsor workshops, conferences, and semester-long research programs, play an important role in the vitality of the mathematics community. The effect of their programs on young people entering the field is well documented, and the AWM has worked extensively with the institutes to promote participation by under-represented groups. In addition, the AWM serves as an advocate for government and work-place policies that address the barriers encountered by women in mathematics.
While most AWM programs target all women in the field, we make a strong effort to include women of color. In addition, we believe that our programs provide potential models for designing new programs aimed specifically at women of color. Below we describe some relevant programs and activities that AWM has helped to develop and run.
Mentoring and Building Networks
Research conferences and workshops aimed at under-represented groups offer both a chance to showcase the achievements of members of the group, and an opportunity to provide mentoring and create networks crucial to their continued success. This is especially important at the early stages of a career.
Recognizing the importance of mentoring, AWM established the AWM Mentor Network in 2001 with the support of 10 mathematics institutes. The network seeks to match mentors, both men and women, with girls and women who are interested in mathematics or are pursuing careers in mathematics. The network links mentors with a variety of groups: recent PhD’s, graduate students, undergraduates, high school and grade school students, and teachers. Matching is based on common interests in careers in academics or industry, math education, balance of career and personal life, or general mathematical interests.
Communication between mentor pairs is primarily via email, but in some cases personal contact has been possible. Currently, there are approximately 150 matched mentor-mentee pairs.
The primary means of connecting young people with research mentors and potential collaborators is through workshops and conferences. For over 20 years, the AWM has run a highly successful series of AWM Workshops for graduate students and early career researchers at the annual Joint Mathematics Meetings. The workshops provide young women an opportunity to present their work to a broad audience and to develop mentoring relationships at a crucial point in their careers. The event includes a pre-workshop dinner or reception, a series of research talks by recent PhD’s, a poster session for graduate students, and a lunch. Participants are selected competitively for funding and presentations, but the workshop events are open to all those attending the joint meetings.
In addition to the workshops organized by AWM, we frequently assist other organizations in creating events aimed at mentoring young women in the field and showcasing their work.
In 2011, the Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics (IPAM) sponsored a Women in Mathematics Symposium in cooperation with AWM. The stated aim was “to expose new female mathematicians to a wide range of possibilities and experiences in academia, government, business and industry.” Graduate students and recent PhD’s had opportunities to present their research and to learn about the career opportunities and professional development. AWM sent six representatives to the conference, including three who served on the organizing committee, Andrea Bertozzi, Alissa Crans, and Ami Radunskaya. We also helped to publicize the symposium to our membership.
Trachette Jackson, AWM executive committee member, has played a major role in several other conferences aimed at addressing the issue of minority participation. The Spring Opportunities Workshop is a new series of workshops, organized by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) in Berkeley, aimed at cultivating a diverse community of mathematical scientists. The goal of the series is to educate current and aspiring mathematical scientists in underrepresented groups about professional opportunities in academia, industry, and government, as well as to help young researchers find jobs and mentors within the profession through networking. Jackson was a co-organizer of the first workshop in the series, held in March 2012. It focused on the professional advancement of underrepresented minorities in the mathematical sciences and introduced MSRI research programs to faculty in minority-serving and primarily undergraduate institutions.
The Infinite Possibilities Conference (IPC) series is specifically aimed at minority women in mathematics and statistics. The most recent of these was held in March 2012 at the University of Maryland and featured Jackson as a plenary speaker. Conference activities included professional development workshops, a panel discussion on graduate studies in mathematics, research talks given by professionals, student poster sessions, events for high school students, and roundtable discussions on experiences with mathematics. AWM has begun a program of awarding two free memberships in the organization to winners of the IPC poster sessions.
Awards and Distinguished Lectures
One of the keys to advancing women of color in the field is to increase their visibility. Awards and Distinguished Lecture series are an effective means toward this end. AWM sponsors several lecture series at large annual meetings, designed to increase the visibility of women in mathematics. One of these, the Falconer Lectures series, held at the annual summer Mathematical Association of America (MAA) MathFest, is named for and honors Dr. Etta Z.
Falconer, a gifted and influential African American mathematician. AWM and MAA sponsor this series to honor women like Falconer who have made distinguished contributions to the mathematics or mathematics education. This lecture advances Dr. Falconer’s mission to increase the number of African American women in the mathematical sciences by re-articulating in public her goals and by celebrating the achievements of women mathematicians of color; four of the past seven lecturers have been women of color. Showcasing these women at a national meeting provides high visibility at the meeting, on the AWM and MAA websites, and through the dissemination of videos of the lectures. By acknowledging the research accomplishments of the Falconer Lecturers, AWM and MAA are taking a step towards dismantling stereotypes and are providing strong and inspiring role models for younger women.
Another prize designed to honor mathematicians (men or women) of color is the Blackwell- Tapia Award. This prize is given biannually at the Blackwell-Tapia Conference, which rotates among the NSF Mathematics Institutes. The prize, and the annual conference, honors the legacy of two distinguished mathematicians, David Blackwell, an African-American, and Richard Tapia, a Latino American. It is given to a mathematical scientist who has contributed significantly to research in his or her field of expertise, and who has served as a role model for mathematical scientists and students from underrepresented minority groups or contributed in other significant ways to addressing the problem of the underrepresentation of minorities in mathematics. In 2010, Trachette Jackson, a member of the AWM Executive Committee, became the first woman to receive the Blackwell-Tapia Award.
Focusing on the Issues
While activities such as those described above are making inroads, there is still a need for a better understanding of the problems and for creative new ideas for solutions.
In 2008, an NSF-supported national forum, Promoting Diversity at the Graduate Level in Mathematics, was held at MSRI. This workshop provided a forum for the interchange of information among key constituencies involved in graduate education: research universities, small colleges, and graduate students. Organizers of the workshop included AWM Past President Rhonda Hughes, AWM Executive Committee member Sylvia Bozeman, and current AWM Treasurer Ellen Kirkman.
Lectures at the workshop focused on framing the issues and developing strategies for broadening participation. Panel discussions and other talks highlighted personal experiences, obstacles that prevent fuller participation, and success stories. Among these presentations was the plenary lecture by Trachette Jackson, a member of the AWM Executive Committee, who gave an inspiring narrative of her journey from her undergraduate days to her current position as head of a cancer modeling group at the University of Michigan. Her distinguished contributions have been recognized by many organizations, including by AWM with its Falconer Lectureship.
Recognizing the importance of cultivating a diverse community in the mathematical sciences, 15 mathematical science institutes in North America have formed the Institute Diversity Committee. The goal of this committee is to support the participation of underrepresented groups in the mathematical sciences, including women, underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities. Jill Pipher, the current President of AWM and Director of the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics (ICERM) and Georgia Benkart, former President of AWM are members of this Committee.
One of the key initiatives undertaken by the Institute Diversity Committee was the creation of a universal database used by NSF Mathematics Institutes to connect participating
individuals to programs of potential interest to them. Individuals elect to participate and provide information about their research interests. AWM has sent an announcement to its members informing them of the existence of this resource.
AWM also takes an active role in advocating policies favorable to increasing participation of women in the sciences. On two separate occasions, in 2010 at an NSF retreat and in 2011 at an NSF seminar of program officers, Georgia Benkart spoke on career-life and diversity issues as AWM President. In her talks at NSF, she encouraged NSF to have more openness concerning their policy for taking time off or requesting a grant extension because of family leave, and she encouraged them to consider supplemental grant funds to be used for child care at conferences. Her testimony helped to inform a new NSF Career-Life Balance Initiative.
The AWM also represents the interests of women in the mathematical sciences through its participation in the Conference Board on Mathematical Sciences (CBMS). This is an umbrella organization representing 16 professional societies.
Challenges and Policy Recommendations
The initiatives described above point to several possible strategies for increasing the participation of women of color in the mathematical sciences.
• Conferences and workshops aimed at women in the mathematical and physical sciences, or specifically at women of color, including both research and mentoring components.
• Prizes and Distinguished Lecture series aimed at celebrating accomplishments of women of color.
• A database and diversity committees to assure appropriate representation of women of color in major research conferences, prize nominations, etc.
• Advocacy for policies addressing work-life balance issues.
The nature of the funding for such programs is also crucial. Many women in the mathematical sciences express the opinion that they are asked to perform more than their share of service. While there are many women eager to help organize events such as those described above, it can take a serious toll on their time and their research. Thus, funding for conferences and workshops should include, in addition to travel money for participants, funding for extra staff support and/or teaching release for organizers.
AWM has a minimal staff. Most of the work within AWM is done by active mathematicians on a purely volunteer basis. AWM could have more programs, increase its visibility and that of its members, and support the productivity of some of its most active volunteers if AWM had the resources to hire more paid staff.
A perennial problem for women is the need for child care. There is little doubt that young women would attend more conferences and special programs and travel more frequently to work with collaborators if adequate child care were available. Directors of NSF Mathematics Institutes report that the percentage of women declining invitations to participate in institutes programs is much higher than that of their male counterparts. More attention and more funding should be directed toward this problem.
Most of the programs we have discussed here focus on women at the graduate level or above. Recent data shows that the percentage of mathematics Ph.D.’s awarded to U.S. women is declining, from a high of nearly 33 percent to 25 percent (2011). In the case of women of color, however, the percentages are very small; thus, additional attention to attracting more women of color at the high school and undergraduate levels is critical. AWM recognizes the need to
address pipeline issues and offers programs and prizes aimed at middle school, high school, and college students. AWM and Math for America sponsor an Essay Contest highlighting the achievements of a woman in mathematics. AWM and the NSF Mathematics Institutes sponsor a mentoring program (Mentor Network). AWM’s grants support activities for middle and high school students (Sonia Kovalevsky Days). AWM encourages the development of undergraduate student chapters and offers the Alice T. Schafer Prize for Excellence in Mathematics by an undergraduate woman at the Joint Mathematics Meetings. AWM participates in the USA Science and Engineering Festival.
AWM recommends that funding be made available for an extensive and comprehensive mentoring network for middle and high school girls of color who are interested in mathematics and sciences.
The American Mathematical society collects data on the ethnicity of new PhD’s in their annual survey. These can be found at www.ams.org/profession/data/emp-survey
Membership data: In 2010-2011, 82 percent of AWM individual members were female, 13 percent were male, and the rest did not identify. In this same year, 68 percent were Caucasian, 6 percent Asian, 3 percent African American, 2 percent Spanish or Latino, and the rest did not identify.
Falconer Lectures: http://sites.google.com/site/awmmath/programs/falconer-lectures
Blackwell-Tapia Conference: http://icerm.brown.edu/blackwell-tapia-2012
AWM Workshop Series: http://sites.google.com/site/awmmath/programs/workshops
MSRI Promoting Diversity Conference: www.msri.org/web/msri/scientific/show/-/event/Wm466
Infinite Possibilities Conference: www.ipcmath.org/conference.html-ConferenceRegForm
Spring Opportunities Workshop: www.msri.org/web/msri/scientific/workshops/show/-/event/Wm9345
Institute Diversity Committee: www.mathinstitutes.org/diversity.php