Launchings from the CUPM Curriculum Guide:
How to find more majors

David M. Bressoud December, 2005

B.1: Promote interdisciplinary collaboration

The three recommendations in Part A dealt with the largest pool of students that most of us will see: those in introductory and general education courses. Part B moves on to a generally stronger and more confident group of students, those majoring in the sciences, engineering, or other fields that require statistics, calculus, and perhaps even linear algebra and differential equations. This should be fertile ground for identifying and encouraging potential majors in mathematics. The key is to reach them where they live, to convince them that mathematics is directly relevant to the field they want to study, whether it be biology, engineering, or economics.

This should not be hard, but too often we teach the course that interests us as mathematicians rather than a course that will engage our students. If we want to attract students to pursue more mathematics, then we must help them to see why mathematics lies at the core of our modern scientific understandings of the world and how it informs and participates in some of the most exciting research being undertaken today.

This cannot be accomplished in a vacuum. We must partner with those disciplines that use mathematics, learning the needs of their students and drawing on their research problems to shape our choices of illustrative examples. The CRAFTY volume Curriculum Foundations Project: Voices of the Partner Disciplines [1] was created specifically to help initiate this conversation. It consists of eighteen short discipline-specific reports written by leading undergraduate educators in these fields addressing the question: What do students in your discipline need from the mathematics courses they are required to take? It is intended as a starting point for conversations at your institution.

Once again, the Illustrative Resources is a rich mine of information and ideas. Among the projects and papers it cites are

In whatever direction you look, much has already been done to make mathematics real and relevant to students in our partner disciplines. Convinced of its importance, these students can be enticed to take another math course. This is how you attract majors.

[1] The Curriculum Foundations Project, William Barker and Susan Ganter, editors, Mathematical Association of America, Washington, DC, 2004.

[2] Mel S. Sabella and E. F. Redish, Student Understanding of Topics in Linear Algebra, Physics Education Research Group, University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

[3] Computing Curriculum 2001, IEEE CS and ACM Joint Task Force on Computing Curricula.

Do you know of programs, projects, or ideas that should be included in the CUPM Illustrative Resources?

Submit resources at

We would appreciate more examples that document experiences with the use of technology as well as examples of interdisciplinary cooperation.

David Bressoud is DeWitt Wallace Professor of Mathematics at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, he was one of the writers for the Curriculum Guide, and he currently serves as Chair of the CUPM. He wrote this column with help from his colleagues in CUPM, but it does not reflect an official position of the committee. You can reach him at