MAA Strongly Supports Federal Funding for Intervention Projects
In 1990, the MAA and its Strengthening Underrepresented Minority Mathematics Achievement (SUMMA) Program began concerted efforts to improve the mathematics education of minorities and increase the representation of minorities in the fields of mathematics, science and engineering. However, external support for pre-college intervention projects has become scarcer within the last few years with the discontinuance of substantial federal funding from such agencies as the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.
As a result, the MAA has begun to encourage mathematics departments, not just individual faculty, to work in this arena. Institutional resources should be brought to bear on encouraging pre-college students to take more challenging mathematics and science courses in preparation for the mathematics-based careers that will be at the heart of the information revolution of the next century.
Of course, intervention at the pre-college level is not the whole solution, and the MAA is also developing REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) programs that specifically target students who are members of minority groups that are under-represented in the mathematics community. These programs will work towards expanding the number of minority students who go on to advanced degrees in the mathematical sciences.
In late l998, Congress took a step in the right direction by establishing the Commission on the Advancement of Women and Minorities in Science, Engineering, and Technology Development (CAWMSET). The goal of the Commission is to research and recommend ways to improve the recruitment, retention, and representation of women, minorities, and persons with disabilities in education and employment in the areas of science, engineering and technology.
Recently David Scott of the University of Puget Sound and Robert Megginson of the University of Michigan addressed the Commission on behalf of MAA. Scott urged CAWMSET to formally recognize the effectiveness of college based intervention programs, such as those associated with the SUMMA program of the MAA, and to recommend that more federal funds be available for starting and supporting such programs. Megginson's presentation was in response for institutions to present their "best practices" in this area.
In addition to being a former co-chair of the Committee for Minority Participation in Mathematics of the MAA, the committee with oversight of SUMMA, Scott directs the Academic Challenge Program, an intervention program at the University of Puget Sound. From these vantage points he has seen the effectiveness of intervention projects.
"One reason they make a difference," he told the Commission, "is that students go on to careers in mathematics, science, computer science and engineering." Another is that these programs build bridges between colleges and public schools. Many of these programs employ public school teachers as well as college faculty, and the resulting dialogue promotes understanding of the needs and expectations of the two institutions. Scott noted that the MAA Board of Governors has gone on record with its strong support for intervention projects.
Megginson spoke about the plans to create REU programs that target under-represented minorities. He explained that the plan is modeled on a successful program already being conducted by the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao. Students attending the program would begin by participating in a workshop on a particular mathematical topic, and then proceed to an open-ended individual research project based on the material learned at the workshop. Students would later be given opportunities to attend professional conferences and present their research results.
The most critical factor in implementing the REU program is, of course, funding. Also critical is the aggressive recruiting of participants and staff. Megginson's testimony emphasizes the benefits of the program, which allows minority students to deepen their experience of mathematics in close contact with other minority students and then offers the students the opportunity to bring their experience into the community as a whole by participating in a professional meeting.
Additional information on CAWMSET is available at the Commission's web page at http://www.nsf.gov/od/cawmset; the full text of Scott's testimony is online at /features/cawmset1.html; the full text of Megginson's testimony is online at /features/cawmset2.html. For further information on SUMMA, contact Bill Hawkins at MAA Headquarters or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.