A University of Maryland researcher will help lead a pilot project that aims to make mathematics departments across the nation more diverse, equitable and inclusive for staff, faculty and students.
Scott Wolpert, a mathematics professor emeritus at this university, will collaborate with three other project managers to provide diversity, equity and inclusion training to six consultants from mathematics and statistics departments at collegiate-level institutions across the country. The pilot project will begin in 2024 and last for two years to help these institutions modify their mathematics departments to provide a more welcoming, diverse space.
The project’s framework and procedures originate from Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Mathematics, an organization that strives to improve math education at the collegiate level.
Partnering with the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s STEM Equity Achievement Change initiative, TPSE Math created a document that gives institutions’ math departments the opportunity to reflect on their current DEI procedures. The document also provides options for DEI training or program adjustments.
“In TPSE Math, we’re focused on thinking about the whole national mathematics community and what’s happening, and where the mathematics community as a whole needs to go and where it needs to progress,” Wolpert said.
At many colleges and universities across the country, including this university, the mathematics department is the largest teaching unit on campus, according to Wolpert. But because of the subject’s roots in early, traditional university education, mathematics departments also have a history of teaching only a narrow demographic, he said.
“The world has changed, life has changed. The mathematics community nationally, needs to come into the year 2023 in terms of who it’s serving,” Wolpert said.
In 2022, the makeup of undergraduate degree recipients in the mathematics department at this university was 74.9% male and 40.5% white.
Junior math and computer science major Jason Lott said he’s seen how math and other STEM fields are typically male-dominated and largely white, and believes that DEI training could be beneficial to such departments.
“It’s even more important for those departments to get the training so that everyone feels welcome and everyone can succeed in those departments,” Lott said.
Meenakshi Krishnan, co-president of this university’s Women in Math organization, said math is male-dominated because there’s a need for systematic changes in education.
Krishnan, who is a third year applied math and scientific computation doctoral student, said that as a person progresses in math education, they tend to see fewer women and others of underrepresented genders. It’s important to create an environment that welcomes people who may not have previously pursued higher education in math, Krishnan said.
“Science and math itself is so important for global development, and you are really restricting yourself by cutting down talent by not letting people work in STEM, by not encouraging people to work in STEM,” Krishnan said. “By gatekeeping these fields, you’re really cutting down on innovation.”
The pilot program, funded by a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, will focus on six collegiate-level institutions, Wolpert said. Staff, faculty and students at those institutions will receive training on mentoring, professional development, representation in the curriculum, support for parents and caregivers, sexual harassment policies and more.
For Krishnan, initiatives like this pilot program provide hope for more diversity in math.
“I really hope this means that we get to see more people from underrepresented genders choosing to go with math and STEM as their major and feeling comfortable in that place,” Krishnan said. “A more dynamic environment will ultimately lead to us doing better science because we are not just hearing from one demographic.”