DeWitt Wallace Professor of Math, Statistics, and Computer Science Karen Saxe has announced that she will accept a position as the new director of the American Mathematical Society’s (AMS) Washington D.C. office.
Saxe has been a faculty member at Macalester since 1991 and served as department chair from 2007–2013.
Based in Providence, Rhode Island, the AMS is a professional organization composed primarily of academics and mathematical researchers with the purpose of advocating awareness of mathematical policy and education.
Saxe’s position as director of the AMS’s Washington D.C. office will be more administrative than academic. “I communicate what the mathematics community is doing, both in research and education, to the government and other stakeholders there and also communicate back to the math community what’s going on in Washington,” Saxe said.
As well as working as a liaison for the mathematics community, Saxe will work to secure funding for mathematics initiatives from groups like the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. “If you’re investing in a new building with lots of computers in math, or if you’re building a lab or a big telescope you really need to know that funding is not just this year but for the next 10 years,” Saxe said regarding the importance of acquiring stable funding.
Saxe hopes to add a component of involvement in higher education to her role as director of the D.C. office.
“I am very interested in the higher education piece of it, and that’s something that I’ll be trying to build more into the job,” Saxe said. “[As government gets more involved in higher education] we need to be a part of that.”
Saxe will be succeeding Samuel Rankin, who served as director of the AMS in Washington D.C. for 21 years. Coming directly from the world of academia, Saxe will bring a fresh perspective to the position. “I think being in Washington, people become just policy wonks and all political types, so to have real connections to people who are doing the work on the ground is really important.”
Saxe has previous experience working in Washington D.C. In 2013–2014, she worked as an advisor to Senator Al Franken on educational policy, specifically STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. In her DeWitt Wallace inaugural lecture on February 3, 2016, Saxe spoke about the intersections of mathematics and social justice, and how mathmatics can be used to determine fair boundaries for electoral districts.
While Saxe is excited about the opportunities of her new position, she knows that she will miss the Macalester community. “I’ll start to cry if you get me going,” she laughed.
“It’s been a really long process; I’ve spent the entire summer deciding, and it’s been very hard, actually,” Saxe said of her decision to leave Macalester after 25 years. “I’m excited about the position, but I’m really sad about leaving here. It’s been really hard to tell my colleagues.”
Saxe will remain at Macalester for the Fall 2016 semester and will leave to accept her new position in January of 2017.