Sept. 22, 2009
Mathematical Field of Dreams Conference at UI set for Sept. 25-27
In the mathematical sciences field, it's hard enough attracting talented students into graduate school. But drawing underrepresented students into mathematics doctoral programs is almost as hard as proving the Cauchy-Schwarz inequality.
Organizers hope a conference at the University of Iowa next week will put the formula for successful recruitment of underrepresented students more within reach.
UI mathematics professor Philip Kutzko, along with the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences, is holding the third annual Iowa Mathematical Field of Dreams Conference and StatFest Conference Friday, Sept. 25, through Sunday, Sept. 27, at the UI.
Sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation, the conference gives 80 to 90 undergraduate minority math sciences majors - African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders - a chance to learn more about graduate programs related to mathematics. The students were nominated to attend the conference by their Alliance Mentors, a group of more than 70 mathematics professors at colleges and universities serving large numbers of students who are traditionally underrepresented in the mathematical sciences. About 40 of these mentors will attend the conference, hosted by math science departments from the UI, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa.
Kutzko said that for the past 15 years, the UI Department of Mathematics in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has worked to increase the number of underrepresented minority students who get doctoral degrees in mathematics. For the 2009-10 academic year, the UI brought in three minority doctoral students. While this number may seem low, consider this: last year there were 1,235 mathematics doctoral students nationwide, and just 46 of them were minority students.
Kutzko blames the low numbers in part on an underdeveloped relationship between doctoral-granting universities and undergraduate schools that serve minorities, which makes the transition to graduate programs difficult for these students. The conference is an attempt to remedy that situation.
"We realized we were losing talent," Kutzko said. "And we have to do specific things to get students up to speed."
At the conference, students will have a chance to meet with representatives from graduate programs across the country, talk with current graduate students and explore career opportunities.
Carlos Delamora, a UI doctoral student studying algebra and number theory, participated in the conference last year by helping the undergraduate students. The Mexico native commuted to the University of Texas at El Paso for his undergraduate studies before starting the UI doctoral program in 2006.
Delamora said being a minority student - with English as his second language - has been difficult at times, but he appreciates the opportunity to study math, which he has loved since childhood.
"Math is something that is very precise," the 25-year-old said. "You say what you want."
Delamora said he thinks Latinos, and all minorities, should explore their options because he has seen a lot of talent wasted.
Although the Field of Dreams conference focuses on minority students and graduate programs, Kutzko said it is part of a broader effort to increase the number of American students seeking doctoral degrees in mathematics. Out of the 1,235 mathematics doctoral students in the United States last year, only 603 were American citizens or permanent residents.
Despite the need to recruit more students to the field, Kutzko said the number of students getting their doctoral degrees in mathematics has been slowly increasing.
"We're hoping we've found the formula for it," he said.
For more information on the Field of Dreams Conference, visit http://www.mathalliance.org/conference.asp.
STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500
MEDIA CONTACT: Gary Galluzzo, 319-384-0009, firstname.lastname@example.org ; Ashton Shurson, writer