What do the following scenarios have in common?
A mathematician in industry posts a note concerning combinatorial searching on an MAA ListServ, and the posting generates responses involving topics such as Clifford algebras and the mod 9 Fibonacci sequence.
An MAA member attends a session at a national meeting to hear a presentation on Zeno’s paradox and hangs around for the rest of the session, listening to fascinating talks on mathematics and the human mind, on feminist mathematics, and on mathematics and transcendental meditation.
An MAA student member clicks on the web page of a newly formed mathematical organization she has considered joining and gains a whole new perspective on summing geometric series with complex ratio.
The answer is easy if you know that a key word in the title describes a fairly recently established MAA program that makes such experiences routine. Each scenario occurred within an activity of a SIGMAA — a Special Interest Group of the MAA. SIGMAAs have existed for five years, and there are now nine such groups available for any MAA member to join. These groups provide opportunities for individuals with a common mathematical interest to share and discuss ideas during sessions hosted at national meetings and — much more frequently — through easily accessed electronic resources, and they also offer interested members a chance to take on professional leadership positions within a SIGMAA of their choice.
It has been my privilege to be involved with the SIGMAAs program since its inception, as a member of the initial task force charged with developing a plan for establishing a system of special interest groups within the MAA, continuing as a member of the MAA Committee on SIGMAAs, and — most satisfying — as a member of several SIGMAAs myself. The establishment of the SIGMAAs program succeeded because of hard work by many individuals and groups at a crucial time for review and renewal for the Association. In this article, I would like to summarize the history of the SIGMAAs movement and also offer readers a sense of how this program offers a new and special MAA membership benefit.
A New Agenda for the 21st Century
At its January 1999 meeting, the MAA Board of Governors initiated a review of the status of the Association with respect to changes in mode of communication, demographics, modern technologies, and member attitudes and expectations and appointed a planning group to prepare a set of recommendations to guide the MAA into the new millennium. The results of this work were summarized in the spring of 1999 in A New Agenda for the 21st Century, a document that listed five priority action recommendations, one of which was “Facilitate the Formation of Special Interest Groups.”
Subsequently, the MAA Executive and Finance Committees endorsed, in principle, formation of a special interest groups program and, in late spring of 1999 they established the MAA Task Force on Special Interest Groups charged with formulating guidelines for the formation, organizational structure, and operating procedures of such groups. The Task Force’s resolution, approved by the MAA Board of Governors in August of 1999, officially named the newly established groups “SIGMAAs” —Special Interest Groups of the MAA — and the new SIGMAAs program was announced to the membership in “MAA Adding SIGMAAs to its Membership Benefits,” an article published in the December 1999 issue of FOCUS.
SIGMAAs become a reality
The first proposal to form a SIGMAA came in early December of 1999 from the Association for Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education (ARUME). ARUME’s proposal was reviewed by the Task Force and approved by the MAA Executive Committee just prior to the Joint Mathematics Meetings held in Washington, DC in January of 2000. The announcement that ARUME, now renamed as SIGMAA RUME, had become the first Special Interest Group of the MAA was received with applause from a large group attending the SIGMAA Reception on the afternoon of January 19, 2000 in the Washington Omni Shoreham Hotel.
The approval of the SIGMAA RUME charter and good publicity work quickly attracted more applications to form SIGMAAs. During 2000 and 2001 charters were approved for the SIGMAA on Statistics Education (SIGMAA STAT-ED), which was an outgrowth of the Isolated Teachers of Statistics group, and the SIGMAA on Business, Industry, and Government (BIG SIGMAA), which was formed by a group interested in the mathematical needs of members working in, and students intending to work in, non-academic employment.
With three SIGMAAs in place, the Task Force disbanded and a new standing committee of the MAA, the Committee on SIGMAAs, was established. Upon being formed, the Committee already had a number of applications on its agenda, and within its first year forwarded three recommendations that were approved by the Executive Committee. Thus, the SIGMAAs on the History of Mathematics (HOM SIGMAA), Environmental Mathematics (SIGMAA EM), and the Philosophy of Mathematics (POM SIGMAA) came into existence. During the last two years, approved status has been attained for the SIGMAAs on Mathematics Instruction Using the Web (WEB SIGMAA), Quantitative Literacy (SIGMAA QL), and Teaching Advanced High School Mathematics (SIGMAA TAHSM). Thus, there are currently nine active SIGMAAs representing a wide range of special interests within the MAA membership.
What’s in it for you?
The SIGMAA program provides a relatively new, individually focused membership benefit that takes advantage of modern-day technologies and that, for a very minimal (currently $10) dues supplement, can be available to you. You can follow ListServ discussions among your colleagues, and — with only a few mouse clicks — you can be part of the discussion. As a SIGMAA member, you can propose topics for contributed paper sessions or panel discussions focused on your interest for inclusion in section or national meeting programs. You might even consider the possibility of volunteering for a leadership position as a SIGMAA officer.
The nine individual SIGMAAs would not exist today without the voluntary effort of their founders and officers who have strived to provide valuable member benefits. But, ultimately, it is the members that make their SIGMAA succeed — by paying dues, by attending and participating in sessions at meetings, by taking advantage of electronic communication to discuss ideas and solve problems, and most importantly by sharing a special mathematical interest with colleagues.
Take a look at the accompanying list that describes the nine SIGMAAs to see if one — or several — appeal to you, and consider joining! Or, if you and some colleagues share a mathematical special interest that is not represented by any of the existing groups, consider the possibility of forming a new SIGMAA.
Oh, and now that you are familiar with the SIGMAAs, can you match one with each of the three scenarios given at the beginning of this article? If you need help (or even if you don’t), browse the SIGMAA web pages, which can be found at http://www.maa.org/SIGMAA/SIGMAA.html.
The author teaches at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and serves as the current chair of the MAA Committee on SIGMAAs. While on sabbatical leave during the 2004-2005 academic year, he is working as a Visiting Mathematician with the MAA Headquarters Office.
BIG SIGMAA (Business, Industry, and Government) BIG SIGMAA serves as a unifying link between business, industry and government mathematicians, academic mathematicians, and mathematics students. The SIGMAA provides resources and a forum for MAA members who share an interest in mathematics used in business, industry, and government, aids in professional development, helps build partnerships between industry and academics, and increases awareness of opportunities for mathematicians in business, industry, and government.
SIGMAA Stat-Ed (Statistics Education) The mission of the SIGMAA on Statistics Education is to provide a forum for those who are interested in statistics education to meet, interact, offer support, and foster increased awareness of statistics education.
HOM SIGMAA (History of Mathematics) The mission of HOM SIGMAA is to provide a forum through which those interested in the history of mathematics can meet, interact, exchange ideas, provide support for one another, and foster increased awareness of the historical background of mathematics.
POM SIGMAA (Philosophy of Mathematics) The mission of POM SIGMAA is to stimulate interest in the philosophy of mathematics in the wider mathematical community; to inform this community of concepts, issues and recent developments in the philosophy of mathematics; and to encourage research in the philosophy of mathematics.
SIGMAA EM (Environmental Mathematics) The mission of SIGMAA EM is to provide a forum for those interested in solving problems arising from environmental sources. SIGMAA EM also promotes awareness of environmental issues and especially the role that mathematics plays in analyzing such issues.
SIGMAA QL (Quantitative Literacy) SIGMAA QL aims to provide a structure within the mathematics community to identify the prerequisite mathematical skills for quantitative literacy (QL) and find innovative ways of developing and implementing QL curricula. We also intend to assist colleagues in other disciplines to infuse appropriate QL experiences into their courses and hope to stimulate the general national dialogue concerning QL.
WEB SIGMAA (Mathematics Instruction Using the Web) The mission of WEB SIGMAA is to educate its members about the use of the Web for instruction in mathematics, encourage and facilitate project members using the Web for mathematics instruction, create an interactive community of MAA members interested in using the Web for mathematics instruction, and act as a resource for all MAA members seeking to use the Web for undergraduate instruction.
SIGMAA TAHSM (Teaching Advanced High School Mathematics) The mission of SIGMAA TAHSM is to support MAA members who share an interest in issues related to post-precalculus mathematics at the secondary school level by providing a forum for exchanging ideas, fostering increased understanding of these issues within the MAA, increasing the dialogue between the MAA and high school teachers, and utilizing expertise of the members in guiding and improving mathematical opportunities for advanced high school students.