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Sixth Annual Field of Dreams Conference Held in Phoenix

1 May 2013 491 views No Comment
Kathryn Chaloner, Philip Kutzko, and Billie Townsend, University of Iowa, and Leslie McClure, University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Faculty and students from Xavier University in New Orleans

    Faculty and students from Xavier University in New Orleans

    More than 150 undergraduate mathematics and statistics majors, together with more than 75 of their faculty mentors, met in Phoenix, Arizona, November 2–4 to learn about graduate school opportunities in the mathematical sciences.

    The undergraduates—nominated by faculty members at their home college or university—were from all over the continental United States, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. Almost all were from groups under-represented in the U.S. scientific work force.

    The conference was sponsored by the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences. The goal of the alliance is to “be sure that every under-represented or underserved American student with the talent and the ambition has the opportunity to earn a doctoral degree in a math science.” Its core is a community of mathematics and statistics faculty at colleges and universities teaching large numbers of minority students, as well as faculty at majority research institutions.

    Poster presentations from students

    Poster presentations from students

    The Field of Dreams conference is an opportunity for alliance faculty mentors to meet and plan future activities and priorities, as well as make sure under-represented undergraduates have the information they need to apply to graduate programs in the math sciences.

    An axiom of the alliance community is the importance of mentoring, specifically that mentoring in the transition from a minority-serving undergraduate institution to a majority research institution is a partnership between undergraduate and graduate mentors. Continued high-quality mentoring in graduate school is also important, not just by the thesis advisor, but by other faculty members as well, especially for students who are not familiar with the culture of a graduate program. For example, students who are from the first generation in their family to attend college may be unfamiliar with the expectations and culture.

    As it has in the past, the conference included sessions such as “Paths to the Doctorate: Finding the Right Graduate Program for You,” “How to Succeed in a Math Sciences Graduate Program,” “Summer Programs,” and “Careers in the Mathematical Sciences.” A panel of current graduate students, who attended a minority-serving college as undergraduates, described their experiences and answered questions from undergraduates. This was clearly a high-impact session.

    Graduate students also presented posters on their research, as did post-doctoral scholars. The graduate recruiting fair included representation from several biostatistics and statistics graduate programs. A relatively new addition to the program was a panel by the Math Sciences Institutes, together with presentations by Math Sciences Institutes postdoctoral fellows. The presentation from the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute included specific information about opportunities in statistics. Another new addition this year was a plenary session, “Mathematics: Then and Now.” This session included two talks, one in number theory and one in geometry, illustrating how much of mathematics as practiced in the classical world is accessible to any sufficiently interested person today. Understanding the nature of this change may guide us in our effort to broaden participation in the mathematical sciences in America.

    The keynote speaker was Erika Camacho, assistant professor of mathematics at Arizona State University. Camacho described her experience growing up in inner city Los Angeles and working to help support her family while attending Garfield High School, where she was taught by Jaime Escalante (as featured in the 1988 film “Stand and Deliver”). Camacho also spoke about her experience attending Wellesley College, from which she graduated cum laude in mathematics and economics. She then went on to earn a PhD in applied mathematics from Cornell University. Camacho acknowledged her mentors, including both Jamie Escalante and Carlos Castillo-Chavez. For those wishing to learn more about her story, see the Spring 2007 edition of SACNAS News.

    Statistics was well represented at the conference by panelists and speakers from both statistics and biostatistics. During the inaugural meeting of the alliance, initial discussion centered around data showing that statistics and biostatistics PhD graduates include a much higher proportion of international students than do the other mathematical sciences and that under-represented minorities awarded PhDs in statistics and biostatistics are concentrated in a small number of universities. Subsequent discussion addressed goals toward which the alliance could work, ensuring that more minority mathematics majors were aware of opportunities for graduate study in statistics and biostatistics. The following goals were decided upon:

    1. To inform alliance undergraduate mentors about opportunities in statistics and biostatistics for their students
    2. To propagate best mentoring practices to statistical science graduate programs in being supportive of minority students
    3. To add additional graduate programs in the statistical sciences as Alliance Graduate Program Groups

    Statisticians and biostatisticians wanting to be kept up to date with or learn more about the Alliance Statistics Initiative should contact Kathryn Chaloner or Leslie McClure: Kathryn-chaloner@uiowa.edu or lmcclure@uab.edu.

    The 2013 Field of Dreams Conference will again be held in Phoenix on the weekend of November 1–3. Registration details will be available on the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences website soon.

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