Strategic Planning around STEM Issues

David M. Bressoud October, 2008


  1. How effective are the MAA’s recommendations (as contained, for example, in Guidelines for Programs and Departments in Undergraduate Mathematical Sciences, Curriculum Foundations Project, and CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004), and what could be done to better disseminate them?
  2. What resources that are or could be provided by the MAA are most helpful when planning a course? When revising a curriculum?
  3. What can be done to make it easier to organize and access this information when and how it is needed?

Articulation. The most critical juncture within the undergraduate curriculum occurs in the first year as students make the transition from high school to college. A good mathematical experience in this year is key to preparing students for all of the STEM disciplines, and, arguably, for whatever direction they choose to pursue in college. The problems run the gamut from students who arrive unready to do college-level mathematics to those who arrive with Advanced Placement credit but who cannot find the right course that will engage them and entice them toward the further study of mathematics. Particular attention will need to be paid to engaging students from under-represented groups, as well as to the use of interdisciplinary programs.

The other big articulation issue to which MAA should pay more attention involves the transition from 2-year to 4-year institutions. This includes both prospective majors in the mathematical sciences and those who intend to take courses with mathematical pre-requisites.

  1. What are the big issues concerning mathematics for first-year college students at your institution (e.g. placement, college algebra, success in calculus) and what are the major obstacles to success?
  2. Does your institution experience problems at the 2-year to 4-year college transition, and if so, what is the nature of these problems?

Teacher Preparation and Support. One of the greatest and most important challenges to undergraduate math programs lies in providing the appropriate mathematical training for future teachers: high school, middle school, and K-8. What to teach these prospective teachers, how to teach it, and how to measure whether they have achieved the level of expertise needed to be effective teachers are questions we are far from answering. The MAA has an important role to play here.

While the MAA should not recommend what or how to teach in the K-12 curriculum, it does have a responsibility to work much more closely with K-12 teachers and their organizations, especially in encouraging working relationships between college and K-12 faculty and in providing workshops and materials that develop teacher knowledge of mathematical content.

  1. What guidance from the MAA would your department most appreciate with regard to teacher preparation?
  2. What should the MAA do to promote greater collaboration between K-12 and college faculty?

Measurement and Assessment. This is a very broad category. It ranges from research in undergraduate mathematics education, through the collection and interpretation of data that illuminate who our students are, to questions of assessing what our students know and how well prepared they are for the next step in their education or career.

The MAA has a role to play here in helping math departments collect, reflect upon, and act on this information both to improve what happens in the classroom and to effect broad institutional changes in programs and in the allocation of resources.

  1. What would you like to see the MAA provide in terms of research on undergraduate mathematics education, educational data, and assistance with assessment?
  2. What should the MAA be doing to assess and evaluate its own effectiveness?

Other Issues. There are other critical issues that lack the broad scope of the four categories described here. To some extent, they can be subsumed under these categories, but they also extend beyond the categories. First is the need to encourage and support students from under-represented groups. The first year of college mathematics is particularly critical for these students, but the need for attention to the encouragement, care, and nurturing of these students extends beyond the first year.

Second, interdisciplinary programs are and will continue to be an important focus for the MAA. They have a critical role to play in re-envisioning the first-year experience, but they also must be part of the vision of the entire undergraduate experience.

Third, the development of stronger major programs, both interdisciplinary and traditional, is a continuing issue before the MAA.

Finally, terminal master’s programs constitute the one topic from the charge that seems unrelated to the four broad categories that we have identified as needing attention. Nevertheless, it is an issue that can and should be considered by the MAA.

  1. What are the big STEM issues that have not been listed and toward which the MAA needs to direct increased attention?

I and the other members of this committee welcome your comments on how MAA can be a more effective agent for identifying, promoting, and assisting needed changes. To help manage what I hope will be a flood of email, please use the Subject: October Launchings in your email to me at

Access pdf files of the CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004 and the Curriculum Foundations Project: Voices of the Partner Disciplines.

Purchase a hard copy of the CUPM Curriculum Guide 2004 or the Curriculum Foundations Project: Voices of the Partner Disciplines.

Find links to course-specific software resources in the CUPM Illustrative Resources.

Find other Launchings columns.

David Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and President-Elect of the MAA. You can reach him at This column does not reflect an official position of the MAA.