By Jeremy Upsal
The 2018-2019 school year is the second full year of the diversity committee operating in the Department of Applied Mathematics, but this is our first newsletter. The Diversity Committee is a departmental-appointed committee composed of students, faculty, and staff. In 2018-2019, the committee consisted of Karen Beaudry, Brian de Silva, Kathleen Champion, Micah Henson, Eric Shea-Brown, Doris Voina, and Jeremy Upsal.
Over the last two years, the Diversity Committee has hosted multiple Diversity and Inclusion Lunch Discussions. This year, we had two lunch discussions. The first was on the research article Structure and belonging: Pathways to success for underrepresented minority and women PhD students in STEM fields. In this discussion, we touched on different ways that the department can support underrepresented minority and women PhD students in our department. In particular, we discussed how a lack of structure and clear expectations has affected women PhD students in the department. The second lunchtime discussion was a general discussion on microaggressions. We discussed what microaggressions are, how they impact people, and how even well-intentioned people can unintentionally use microaggressions to create a hostile work environment. A major takeaway from the two lunchtime discussions this year was the need for an additional first-year orientation event that focuses on inclusion, sensitivity, and the climate of the department. The Diversity Committee is working to create this orientation and it will be held for the first time in Autumn 2019 for the new class of first-year students.
The committee also hosted two events this year focused on celebrating our diverse international student body. The first event was a Lunar New Year event held during one of the department’s afternoon tea times. At this event, students from countries that celebrate the Lunar New Year brought in snacks to share. There was also a calligraphy lesson put together by volunteers which was particularly successful. Participants learned to paint Chinese characters on special paper given models of letters and text, and at the end were able to keep what they worked on.
The second event, also held at tea time, was a multicultural potluck. People from across the department brought dishes of cultural significance, whether traditional dishes from their home countries or just family recipes, to share with all. We had ~10 participants that brought diverse dishes, ranging from Caribbean, Italian, German, and Romanian, to name a few. Food from Texas, Washington, and Idaho was also served.
The Women in Applied Mathematics Mentorship Program (WAMM) entered its second year in 2019. WAMM is a mentorship program run by PhD students, where we pair students in our department with undergraduate mentees. The program aims to increase the participation of women in mathematics by providing them with mentorship, community, and exposure to math outside the classroom. This year more than 40 prospective participants applied for just 5 spots. The projects this year were about: predicting survivals on the Titanic, classification using Principle Component Analysis, marital stability, and handwriting recognition.
This year the department became a graduate program group within the Math Alliance. The Math Alliance is a national program with the goal “to increase the number of doctoral degrees in the mathematical sciences among groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in those fields.” Currently six faculty members in our department have signed on to be Math Alliance mentors. Three of the six are currently mentors for undergraduate students across the US.
The Diversity Committee also played a role in the hiring process for a new faculty member this year. For the first time in the department’s history, applicants were interviewed by members of the Diversity Committee as a means to learn more about the candidates’ diversity efforts. These interviews focused largely on what the applicants had done in the past to promote diversity, along with what they planned to do in the future. After all of the interviews were complete, the committee gave a final report to the faculty for their consideration in hiring.
The final Diversity Committee event for the year was a graduate school panel. In an effort to make information regarding the graduate school admissions process accessible to everyone, the committee invited graduate student panelists from various backgrounds to come and share their experiences applying to graduate school and advice for making the process go smoothly. The students were also given an applying to graduate school “cheat sheet” condensing crucial application advice into one document.
This year turned out to be another great year for the diversity committee and we look forward to continuing our important work next year!