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MAA Congressional Briefing Calls for Minority Majors to Stem "Brain Drain"

At an MAA Congressional briefing on September 22, 2009, mathematics educators called for greater Federal funding to increase the participation of underrepresented minorities in science, engineering, and mathematics--and thus keep the nation competitive.  MAA coordinated the event with the Diversity and Innovation Caucus in the House of Representatives.  Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (D, Texas), co-chairs this group and gave welcoming remarks to the standing-room-only crowd of about 65 people. 

Introducing the issue "Undergraduate Mathematics: Promising Recruitment and Retention Strategies to Ensure Diversity in the STEM Pipleine," MAA President David Bressoud noted that "if we want to build a talented American workforce for the future, we cannot afford to ignore" women, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and Native Americans. While the percentage of African-, Hispanic-, and Native-American students earning bachelor's degrees has increased since 1990, the proportion of such students majoring in mathematics and science has stagnated for the last decade, Bressoud said. He urged Congress to increase funding for undergraduate scholarships and the mentoring and infrastructure programs needed to retain students, The National Science Foundation, is the leading funder of such efforts.  In addition, NSF provides data "critical" to understanding minority underrepresentation in mathematics and science.

MAA President David Bressoud.

Professor Sylvia T. Bozeman (Spelman College, in Atlanta) cited statistics to illustrate problems related to the participation and retention of minority students in the STEM fields. But she indicated that Spelman College, a historically black women's college, has succeeded in getting students interested in mathematics through summer programs for high-school students; recruitment by faculty and students in the math department; advising and mentoring by the mathematics and science faculty; and "community building," which she called "a key to creating a sense of belonging" in science and mathematics.

Professor Carlos Castillo-Chavez (Arizona State University, in Tempe) pointed out that "For the first time in history, we are experiencing the brain drain that other countries have experienced." The "reverse immigration" of Chinese and Indian scientists and mathematicians who have studied and worked in the U.S. should spur efforts to increase home-grown talent. He cited examples of what works at his institution, most notably a high-school summer residential program that attracts Hispanic- and Native-American students, most of whom then pursue science and mathematics studies. He stressed the importance of undergraduate research experiences, also funded by NSF, and the importance of the mathematical sciences institutes. "We have to produce large numbers of extremely well-qualified scientists and mathematicians," Castillo-Chavez said. "It's not going to take place at the elite universities, but at schools with limited resources."

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (left), Sylvia T. Bozeman (center), and Carlos Castillo-Chavez (right).

Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, who is chairman of Subcommittee on Higher Education, Lifelong Learning and Competitiveness of the House Committee on Education and Labor, professed support for institutional programs that attract and help to retain African-, Hispanic-, and American-Indian students. He called mathematics "the foundation for so many endeavors"--and promised to press Congress to consider the educators' suggestions, including a proposal to develop mentoring partnerships in mathematics and science among government, businesses, and universities.

For a full report of the presentation go to MAA's Advocacy and Public Policy page and see the article that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education on Wednesday, September 23, 2009.

News Date: 
Wednesday, September 23, 2009