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More Than Just a Grade: The HOM SIGMAA Student Contest Fosters Writing Excellence at UMKC

Richard Delaware (University of Missouri - Kansas City)

Fourteen HOM SIGMAA Undergraduate Student Paper Contest wins over fifteen years, 2004–2018—I am as surprised as you are. Students from my once-a-year, little History of Mathematics class (mean enrollment 12, median 13) at the University of Missouri–Kansas City (UMKC) have now won or co-won first place eleven times and runner-up/second place three times. In 2004, the first HOM SIGMAA contest excited us. Undergraduate expository papers in any context, but especially in mathematics, rarely find contest or publication opportunities. Knowing the HOM SIGMAA contest exists has motivated my students year after year to write beyond what is strictly necessary for a grade, and often beyond their own expectations. We have submitted papers to the contest every year since 2004. And although we did not win every year, enduring one notable three-year dry spell early on, my students’ record of success is, frankly, wonderful. You’ll read the list of winning papers at the end of this article. So, it is worth asking, “How did we get here?”

First you should know that although I am the instructor of this course, my training is in mathematics and not in the history of mathematics or the history of science. In those areas I am an autodidact. Second, as a teacher of writing I am also an amateur, though over twenty years I have become more skilled as an editor and writing mentor. So, the truth is that I stepped into the teaching of a History of Mathematics course at UMKC in 1998 untutored but with an enthusiasm for its importance in the training of our mathematics majors. Here follow a handful of my idiosyncratic observations and hand-crafted techniques in a distillation of what I’ve absorbed from historians and others over time. I hope these observations offer help to any teachers of the history of mathematics and their students inspired by and considering submitting papers to the HOM SIGMAA contest.

Richard Delaware (University of Missouri - Kansas City), "More Than Just a Grade: The HOM SIGMAA Student Contest Fosters Writing Excellence at UMKC," Convergence (February 2019), DOI:10.4169/convergence20190201