Beginning this academic year, the Applied Mathematics Graduate Program will join the Math Alliance Graduate Program Group (GPG). The Math Alliance was created in 2001 as a collaboration between the Iowa State Regents universities and a few Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Today, the GPG has over 40 programs across the nation with members steadily growing year-to-year.
The Math Alliance’s website elaborates on the goals and motivations to form the alliance:
“The Alliance was organized as a community of mentors and students … Each student had an undergraduate mentor at his or her home institution as well as a graduate mentor at one of the Iowa schools … During its early years, the Alliance concentrated on the transition point from undergraduate school to masters and doctoral programs.
As the number of students who were ready for the transition to graduate programs grew, the Alliance began to work with math sciences graduate faculty nationally to build Alliance Graduate Program Groups: groups of faculty at math sciences graduate programs that have committed themselves to the best practices and community building which has been the hallmark of the Alliance.”
APPM’s application, spearheaded by Associate Professors Nancy Rodriguez and Manuel Lladser, was motivated by goals to increase diversity at within our department, as well as to build a more inclusive community. According to Rodriguez and Lladser, the department has increased the representation of minority groups at the level of faculty; however, it has not been successful at the graduate level. Efforts to increase our diversity in the graduate program are sorely needed. Being a Math Alliance GPG group is one of the efforts we earmarked to help with our recruitment efforts.
Attracting diverse, qualified candidates into the graduate program has been challenging over the years. Various graduate committees have attempted to tackle the problem of a monochrome student body from different angles, but complex financial, cultural, and systemic hurdles continue to thwart plans to bring in and maintain a diverse community. Applied Math’s Graduate Student Coordinator explained the impetus behind APPM’s push to become a GPG member: “Joining the Math Alliance is, in essence, calling in professional help to look at our current DEI strategies to assess and optimize their efficacy. We’ve laid bare our program stats for review, in order to be coached and mentored by experts on how to provide and promote a safe, inclusive working environment for all students.”
APPM’s strategic plan aims to address academic challenges, personal challenges, and social challenges. The application organizers outlined the details of how they will address each challenge:
“Our plan is to help address Math Alliance students’ personal challenges in graduate school through mentoring. Math Alliance graduate students will be paired with a faculty mentor selected from our Math Alliance mentors (in addition to their general Faculty mentor to whom all first-year students are assigned). Faculty mentors will meet with students, where mentors will assess how students are doing beyond their coursework and program requirements and give students a safe space to share concerns or issues with faculty invested in their success.
To address social challenges, we will hold a social activity between Math Alliance students (and any other student from a marginalized community) and Math Alliance mentors. The aim is to help build a community through social interactions. These events will provide an opportunity for Math Alliance students to develop a sense of cohort and to socialize with mentors in a low-key setting. We also plan to bring at least one underrepresented minority (URM) speaker for the Applied Mathematics Colloquium each semester, with whom students can meet and socialize before and after their talk.
We plan to help address academic challenges by giving students special office hours. Our Math Alliance faculty mentors will hold office hours every week. During these office hours, students will be able to get help with Analysis, Probability and Statistics, and Numerical Analysis, which are the core classes for our graduate program.”
Joining the Math Alliance is a crucial step towards diversity in applied mathematics, and can further bolster the program’s leading research in the field. Students wishing to read more about the Math Alliance can visit their website to find more information, including the history, currently accepted university programs, and goals of the alliance.