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Two Programs Honored for Bringing ­nderrepresented Groups into Mathematics

By American Mathematical Society

April 2, 2010



The American Mathematical Society is honoring two programs that do an outstanding job of bringing more individuals from underrepresented minority groups into the mathematical sciences. The "Mathematics Programs that Make a Difference" award each year highlights two programs that have developed successful, replicable methods for increasing participation of these groups in the field.

For 2010 the honored programs are the Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics, Rice University, and the Summer Program in Quantitative Sciences, Harvard School of Public Health. The citations and descriptions of the Programs That Make a Difference are at http://www.ams.org/employment/makeadiff.html.

"Both of the programs recognized this year have had remarkable success in attracting and successfully mentoring underrepresented minorities," says Susan Loepp of Williams College, who served as chair of the selection committee. "The individual guidance and personal connections each program provides for their students have proved to be a key part of their extraordinary track records."

Cutting-Edge Research

The Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM) at Rice University has been one of the most successful departments in the nation in mentoring and producing mathematical sciences doctorates drawn from underrepresented minority groups. In the past 25 years, the department has produced 34 PhDs from these groups. Additionally, CAAM has produced 43 female PhDs. Graduates of the program have distinguished careers in government labs, industry, and academia.

The twelve members of the CAAM faculty are involved in cutting-edge research in inverse problems, discrete and continuous optimization, computational neuroscience, partial differential equations (PDE), PDE constrained optimization, and large-scale numerical linear algebra.

The interdisciplinary nature of the department has played a role in making CAAM attractive to groups traditionally underrepresented in mathematics.

Much of the department's success in this effort has come through the leadership of Richard Tapia, the recipient of many mentoring awards as well as the 2004 AMS Award for Distinguished Public Service to Mathematics. During his more than 30 years at Rice University, Tapia personally mentored dozens of students from underrepresented groups, many of whom have gone on to outstanding positions in academia and industry. His enthusiasm and high standards have helped to make CAAM a place where students of all backgrounds can thrive. CAAM has two women professors, Liliana Borcea and Beatrice Riviere, who serve as role models for women students, and Tapia too has worked to increase the number of women students in the department.

Tapia is the author of "Hiring and Developing Minority Faculty at Research Universities," published in the March 2010 issue of Communications of the ACM.

The department's unwavering commitment to students through individual guidance and support has created an exceptionally welcoming community in which students excel.

Biostatistics and Public Health

The aim of the Summer Program in Quantitative Sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health is to attract mathematically talented students from underrepresented minority groups to consider graduate school and careers in biostatistics and public health. Each year, between 6 and 12 minority students have participated in the program, and it is also open to students from other groups underrepresented in graduate education in public health, such as first-generation college students, low-income college students, and handicapped students. Graduates of the program hold leadership positions in the biostatistics community and have received prestigious fellowships and grants.

The four-week program includes an introductory course in biostatistics and statistical computing that meets each day for lectures and computer labs, and an afternoon lecture series on epidemiology, health and social behavior, environmental health, and current research in biostatistics. In addition, students engage in small group research projects that are based on studies being conducted by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health or at the Harvard Medical School.

Of the 131 program participants known to have received their undergraduate degrees, at least 87 (66 percent) have completed graduate degrees or gone on to pursue graduate studies, at least 67 (51 percent) have pursued graduate study related to health or medical school, and 40 (31 percent) have gone on to pursue graduate training in statistics or biostatistics. Currently, two students are in graduate programs at the Harvard School of Public Health, and 20 have received either masters or doctorate degrees at the HSPH.

The program, which began admitting students in 1994, is one of the first of its kind in the nation and has served as a model for similar programs throughout the country. Its remarkable success can be traced to the strong, personal connections it develops with the students.


 

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