The project is supported by a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.
Scott Wolpert, a professor emeritus of mathematics at the University of Maryland, will be the principal investigator of a new pilot project aimed at making mathematics departments a more welcoming space for staff, faculty and students. This project is made possible by a $600,000 grant from a National Science Foundation (NSF) program called Inclusion Across the Nation of Communities of Learners of Underrepresented Discoverers in Engineering and Science (INCLUDES), which supports the participation of populations that have been historically excluded from the sciences.
Set to formally launch in spring 2024, the two-year project will provide diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training to six representatives of mathematics and statistics departments at the collegiate level in the United States. During the program, participants will launch DEI initiatives that put what they learned into practice.
At many colleges and universities, including UMD, math is the largest teaching unit by number of classroom hours. Wolpert explained that initiatives like this new DEI training program don’t just affect math majors, but the wide range of students who take math courses to meet their degree requirements.“What goes on in math and statistics classrooms is particularly consequential to a student’s experience,” Wolpert said. “We teach, in a sense, all the different parts of campus.”
The framework for this project comes from Transforming Post-Secondary Education in Mathematics (TPSE Math), an organization co-founded by William E. “Brit” Kirwan, a professor emeritus of mathematics at UMD and chancellor emeritus of the University System of Maryland.
TPSE Math, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s SEA Change initiative, developed a questionnaire that mathematics departments can use to assess their DEI policies and practices. It applies to staff, faculty and students and covers a range of subjects, including mentoring, professional development, representation in the curriculum, support for parents and caregivers, sexual harassment policies and more.
Wolpert, a longtime senior consultant with TPSE Math, explained that this new project will help participants complete the questionnaire in a systematic way.
“There will be trainings on how to get the information to answer these questions, how to answer questions that are qualitative and how to objectively and accurately provide an overview of your department’s environment,” Wolpert said.
Applications for the training program will be open to math and statistics departments from any university or community college in the United States. In addition, the project will recruit six DEI consultants to help guide the conversation at training sessions, which will be held over two successive summers.
Wolpert has taken part in several DEI-centered projects since joining UMD in 1976, including a movement in the 1990s to introduce group work—now commonplace in academia—into calculus courses. Assignments that foster collaboration and communication among students have been shown to promote DEI, Wolpert noted.
During his tenure as associate dean of UMD’s former College of Computer, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences in the early 2000s, Wolpert partnered with the A. James Clark School of Engineering on two NSF-funded projects that aimed to improve the graduation rate of first-generation students in STEM fields.
“Our graduation rate was very close to 100%,” Wolpert said of the success of those projects. “Some of our alumni placed in high-level positions immediately.”
Wolpert said he is excited to join a new project aimed at making math a more positive experience for students.
“The mission of TPSE Math is to affect change in the post-secondary math community and see to it that every student receives math education that is appropriate to their career goals,” Wolpert said. “We hope, through this project, that departments get a more sophisticated understanding of their own atmosphere and initiate a project which has real impact for the student experience.”