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The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

In D.C., professor warns of lack of women in mathematics

By Maya Pisel

On Sept. 22, professor of mathematics David Bressoud presented to Congress on the importance of recruiting and retaining math students who are also women and or racial minorities. Bressoud made the presentation in his capacity as the President of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA), the largest math organization in the country.

Bressoud said that the MAA “regularly meets with people up on Capitol Hill talking about issues of federal support to help get students into science, engineering and mathematics departments.” They place a special emphasis on African, Hispanic and Native American students, who are underrepresented in mathematical fields.

In addition to Bressoud, the two main speakers at the presentation were Carlos Castillo-Chavez, a professor of Mathematical Biology at Arizona State University, and Sylvia Bozeman, a professor of Mathematics at Spellman College. Both are members of the MAA. The meeting was organized by Representative Rubén Hinojosa, a Democrat from the fifteenth district in Texas, who Bressoud describes as “very interested” in the issue. In fact, Bressoud said, Hinojosa “put together a great science academy for students in South Texas.”

According to Bressoud, the purpose of the meeting was “to highlight those programs that are really working well, [explain] why they’re working and argue for continued and increased support.”

Bressoud said the “basic lessons [of minority enrollment in math] are straightforward. we know what it takes.” The first key element is active recruitment. Bressoud said one effective recruiter is professor William Yslas Velez, who “makes a point of going out and talking to every incoming Hispanic student at the University of Arizona and urges them to take mathematics.”

Bressoud continued that good mentoring and strong communities are also important for retaining minority mathematics students. Providing research opportunities for undergraduates gets students excited and interested in mathematical fields. Finally, effective programs show students how mathematics relates to other disciplines. Castillo-Chavez, for example, had one student who studied the math behind bulimia.

Overall, Bressoud said the presentation “went very well,” with standing room only, about 25 legislative assistants, “lots of good questions and lots of interest.

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