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MAA Congressional Briefing to Stress Diversity in Mathematics

The media, educators, science professionals, and interested parties are invited to a Congressional briefing on Sept. 22, 2009, when three experts in mathematics education will examine the state of undergraduate enrollment and retention of women and minorities in the mathematical sciences; reveal strategies that can bolster recruitment and retention; and recommend federal policies that can increase the number of mathematics majors in U.S. colleges and universities.

After considerable progress during the 1990s in increasing the proportion of women and underrepresented minorities among those majoring in science, technology, mathematics, and engineering (the STEM disciplines), there has been significant slippage during the past decade. This decline is important because the rate of production of engineers and mathematical science majors is essentially where it was two decades ago—despite a 22% increase in the U.S. population since then.

The briefing's purpose is to alert members of Congress to the importance of recruitment and retention of women and students from underrepresented groups in the STEM majors and the key role that mathematics has to play in this effort. If the U.S. fails to do so, the nation will not be able to supply the trained workforce that its economy requires, and these students will largely be cut off from the many opportunities afforded to STEM majors.

MAA President David Bressoud (Macalester College), reviewing the current state of diversity in mathematics education, will point out that mathematics is the bridge to careers in engineering and science. Success in mathematics prepares all students for work in the STEM fields.

"Fluctuations in engineering and mathematics enrollments are highly synchronized," Bressoud contends. "The 1990s saw significant decreases in both the number of engineering majors and the number of mathematics majors. Both numbers have since recovered, but to only just above the level of 1990."

"Disturbingly, the recent recoveries in both disciplines are powered almost entirely by white males and non-U.S. residents," he adds. "Women as well as African, Hispanic, and Native Americans are decreasing as a share of these majors. If we want to build a talented American workforce for the future, we cannot afford to ignore these students."

For women in the mathematical sciences the shifts have been subtler, Bressoud notes, but "the downward trends since 2000 are particularly significant because the numbers are so large."

Award-winning mathematician Sylvia T. Bozeman (Spelman College) and Carlos Castillo-Chavez (Regents Professor and Joaquin Bustoz Jr. Professor of Mathematical Biology at Arizona State University) will speak at the briefing. They will concentrate on underlying factors that have resulted in underrepresentation of African Americans and Hispanics in the mathematical sciences; suggest educational practices that can improve matters; and consider the role the federal government can play to enhance STEM representation by minorities.

Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX), co-chair of the House Diversity and Innovation Caucus, and the Mathematical Association of America, headquartered in Washington, D.C., organized the briefing, titled "Diversity and the Future of STEM: Filling the Undergraduate Mathematics Education Pipeline." The Association is the largest professional society focusing on mathematics education at the undergraduate and collegiate level. It has 23,000 members from universities, colleges, and high schools; graduate and undergraduate students; pure and applied mathematicians; computer scientists; statisticians; and others in academia, government, business, and industry.

The main goal of the MAA's diversity effort is to improve recruitment and retention of women and students from underrepresented groups in the STEM majors. This effort is part of an overall program to recruit and retain all students, but the effort is particularly important if the U.S. is to reverse current trends and again begin improving the representation of students from groups that traditionally have not been well-represented among STEM majors.

News Date: 
Thursday, September 10, 2009