By Jacob Price
Beginning in Winter Quarter 2017, the Applied Mathematics department expanded the scope of its Diversity Committee. Consisting of PhD students, Master's students, faculty members, and departmental staff, the Diversity Committee seeks to address equity, representation, inclusion, and diversity-related issues in the department, university, and the greater applied mathematics community.
After a brainstorming session, the Committee polled the faculty, staff, and students of the department to identify the diversity-related issues that most concern the community, and to gauge interest in the initiatives we were considering. Responding to the expressed concerns of the department, we began by organizing lunch discussions on diversity-related issues. These led to helpful and stimulating discussions regarding the degree of inclusion felt by international students, and the challenges of navigating differing political views in a university environment. The casual atmosphere allowed for attendees to feel comfortable expressing themselves, or to simply observe and listen to their colleagues.
The Diversity Committee also oversaw the addition of a statement of diversity to the departmental website, and collaborated with departmental administrators to institute a mentorship program for incoming graduate students, particularly international students.
The Diversity Committee was instrumental in organizing a new departmental collaboration with the STEM Upward Bound program. This federally-funded program targets promising, STEM-interested students from underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds. The program serves approximately fifty students from Chief Sealth, Cleveland, and Franklin High Schools in South Seattle. The students are all on free or reduced lunches, or would be first generation college students. Most are both. During the summer, STEM Upward Bound offers a six week intensive summer program to prepare these gifted students for applying to and eventually excelling in a STEM program at the university level. After establishing contact between the organization and our Diversity Committee, the department designated a summer TA Instructor position for collaborating with STEM Upward Bound. The designated instructor is designing applied math related course content, teaching an accelerated AP Statistics curriculum, and engaging in mentorship and teaching in student discussion sessions.
The Diversity Committee has only recently begun operating in its expanded role, but there are already encouraging successes. We have begun planning additional lunch discussions of diversity-related topics for the 2017-2018 school year. It is our hope and expectation that the STEM Upward Bound instructorship will be offered to applied mathematics students in future years, ideally with an applied mathematics elective course being developed and offered. The Committee is pursuing funding options to better serve the departmental goals of diversity and inclusivity, by recruiting graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds and inviting speakers with diverse perspectives. It was clear from the departmental poll that the community as a whole is interested in exploring and improving inclusivity and diversity in the department, and the Diversity Committee has taken that to heart and begun making concrete steps toward a more representative future.