Author Archives: Adriana Salerno

An icy finish to a warm conference

I call this "Ice, ice, baby." Taken from the Skybridge from the Hyatt to the Marriott. Today, I was thankful for the post-apocalyptic compound properties of our meeting.

Taken from the Skybridge from the Hyatt to the Marriott. Today, I was thankful for the post-apocalyptic compound properties of our meeting venue.

Saturday morning Atlanta was covered (literally) in ice. As the last day of the meetings, this added an extra dose of excitement (OK, stress) to the proceedings. I was at the AWM Special Session in Number Theory, showcasing work from the Women in Numbers – Europe and the Women in Numbers 3 workshops. In between talks (OK, maybe sometimes even during talks), everyone was frantically checking their flight status on their phones . I heard stories from people taking an hour to walk five blocks the previous night, of people stuck at the airport, and of people trying to find a room to crash in, and maybe happier stories of people being able to see talks they were interested in or the movie Hidden Figures as a result of being stuck.

At the airport it was like seeing an extension of the JMM. The gates were full of mathematicians sharing stories about the meetings, running into old friends, and even doing a little more networking. My own flight was delayed so much that I missed my connection (I’m on my way to another conference in Melbourne, Australia), so I write this post from my friends’ couch in LA, who happened to be on my same flight. I’m still seeing posts today about people trying to make their way back home, or celebrating that they’re finally there.

It seems like a strange, cold ending for a conference that was quite the opposite: warm, welcoming, inspiring, and energizing.  We hope everyone is making it safely home or wherever their math adventures take them, and we hope that we have given you a good glimpse into the wonderful, exhausting, and action-packed annual experience that is the Joint Mathematics Meetings, and we hope to see you in San Diego in 2018!

If you’ve liked our writing, make sure to check out our other gigs! You can find Beth at the AMS blog Ph.D. + epsilon, Anna at the AMS Blog on Math Blogs, Kelsey at her PBS YouTube show Infinite Series, and soon you will be able to find me on a new AMS Blog called Inclusion/Exclusion, about diversity and inclusion in mathematics (link forthcoming).

The new editorial board for the AMS Inclusion/Exclusion blog at the AWM reception (left to right): Piper Harron, yours truly, Brian Katz, and Edray Goins (not pictured, Luis Leyva).

The new editorial board for the AMS Inclusion/Exclusion blog at the AWM reception (left to right): Piper Harron, yours truly, Brian Katz, and Edray Goins (not pictured, Luis Leyva).

Mathematics as a means for human flourishing

One of the highlights of these meetings for me has been the MAA Retiring Presidential Address by Francis Su on Friday morning, titled “Mathematics for Human Flourishing”.

Francis Su, outgoing President of the MAA, and one of my favorite people.

Francis Su, outgoing President of the MAA, and one of my favorite people. Photo credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography

Su started by inviting us to think about who does mathematicsHe told us about Christopher, an inmate who was passionate about learning mathematics and wanted to pursue even given his unfortunate circumstances. The talk was peppered throughout with quotes from Simone Weil, philosopher, mystic, political activist, and sister to famous mathematician Andre Weil. She loved mathematics but felt almost incompetent next to her talented brother. So who does mathematics? Some people, like Christopher and Simone, are repeatedly given the message that they don’t belong and that they will not be successful in mathematics. Su’s charge to the audience is to think about a different question: why should we be encouraging people to do mathematics? 

Francis makes us think. Pictured left to right, (only the people I recognize) Matt deLong, Talithia Washington, and maybe that's Darryl Yong right next to Talithia.

Francis makes us think. Pictured left to right, Matt Boelkins, Matt deLong, Talithia Williams, and maybe that’s Darryl Yong right next to Talithia. Photo credit: Kate Awtrey, Atlanta Convention Photography

The answer is simple: mathematics helps people flourish and the practice of mathematics cultivates virtue. And related to virtue are five essential human desires: play, beauty, truth, justice, and love. All of these can be attained through the practice of mathematics. We can teach students to play by helping them DO mathematics (as in active learning classrooms); we can appreciate the beauty of a proof or result; in an era of post-truth, we have a duty to help people to see the world critically and carefully; we can develop a more just society by including everyone and being mindful of implicit bias and not keeping math an elitist subject; and we can show love for others by supporting and encouraging our peers and students, and creating community.

Su sprinkled stories from his own life, stories shared by others, quotes, and lessons throughout the talk, giving it a deeply emotional and human dimension. His voice broke a couple of times, especially when talking about injustice in mathematics. I think that is where Su’s talent for public speaking lies is in this unique ability to talk about high-level ideas and connecting to them in a deeply personal level. He is really gifted at this, and from the standing ovation he received at the end, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in thinking this.

Justice.To be ever ready to admit that another person is something quite different from what we read when he is there (or when we think about him). Or rather, to read in him that he is certainly something different, perhaps something completely different from what we read in him. Every being cries out silently to be read differently. --- Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

Justice. To be ever ready to admit that another person is something quite different from what we read when he is there (or when we think about him). Or rather, to read in him that he is certainly something different, perhaps something completely different from what we read in him. Every being cries out silently to be read differently. — Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

His final challenge to the audience was this: to find a student who is struggling and become her advocate (I love his constant use of female pronouns as the default).

I’m pretty sure I can’t do this talk the justice it deserves, but I just wanted to share my thoughts for anyone who wasn’t able to be there. If you want to watch a (slightly jumpy, sometimes sideways) video of the talk you can go to the MAA’s facebook page. Francis tells me he will post a transcript of the talk soon on his blog. (Update: There is a transcript now! This is a must read for all.)

How to get money to change mathematics education

I actually don’t know how to get money to change math ed. But I still went to the poster session featuring all sorts of projects funded by the NSF Division of Undergraduate Education. The first impression was the strongest: there were so many posters! This means that the NSF DUE really wants to fund innovative teaching projects! The second impression was that many of my friends and acquaintances were funded, which means there are people near me I can learn a lot from (like how to get money to change mathematics education). Below are a few pictures and highlights of the event.

Kristen Roland presents research on how to best train teaching assistants in Statistics courses.

Kristen Roland presents research on how to best train teaching assistants in Statistics courses.

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Ben Galluzzo, winner of one of the 2016 Alder Awards, presents TWO funded projects on inquiry-based math modeling education.

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David Farmer from the American Institute of Mathematics and collaborators worked on a project which curates courses, by tagging concepts in textbooks and linking those with videos on YouTube and other online content.

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Thomas Judson’s project explores how to use open-source software like Sage in the classroom.

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Sandra Laursen (personal hero) is doing extensive and important research on the effectiveness of inquiry-based and active learning.

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MAA’s Deputy Executive Director is very excited about the Guide to Instructional Practices!

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Linda Braddy presents a common vision adopted by all the societies represented at the JMM.

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Marie Snipes’ project explores using imaging as an inquiry-based approach to understanding applications of math.

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Jill Guerra is studying the effectiveness of POGIL (Project Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) in introductory courses in math.

A Special Special Session

Anna and I are not only co-bloggers extraordinaire, we also co-organized a Special Session titled “Discrete Structures in Number Theory” (the title was all Anna). We knew we had a good lineup from the time we started organizing, but I was pleasantly surprised by just how good our speakers were. The energy was extremely positive, the talks were interesting, and the whole event was just really fun. We also had several speakers who were on the job market, so I hope some of their interviewers came to their talks (*wink wink*).

From the organizational point of view, this was my first special session, and I must say it was a really fun process (of course, as you all know, Anna is great, and that helped).  I encourage all young mathematicians who have not yet organized a session to really consider doing it, it will be worth it! The deadline for an AMS Special Session is April 7, and you can go here. If you’d rather do an MAA Invited Paper Session, you have until March 15, and you can go here.

Favorite quotes/pictures from the session below.

First, a fun fact: Two of our afternoon speakers, Paul Pollack and Lola Thompson, are academic siblings (students of Carl Pomerance) and collaborators. Lesser known fact, Paul was able to train Lola’s guinea pigs to do some fun tricks! So now you know, even if you publish as much as Paul and give really good talks, you will only be as good if you’re an accomplished guinea pig trainer!

Christelle Vincent tells us about a project that she solved the previous night (again). "So this is not really that hard, you can probably do it in like 12 hours". I think she's being modest, but I appreciate the candor!

Christelle Vincent tells us about a project that she solved the previous night (again). “So this is not really that hard, you can probably do it in like 12 hours”. I think she’s being modest, but I appreciate the candor!

"If you can put a picture of the Mandelbrot set in your talk, you put a picture of the Mandelbrot set in your talk. " - John Doyle

“If you can put a picture of the Mandelbrot set in your talk, you put a picture of the Mandelbrot set in your talk. ” – John Doyle

aBa Mbirika explains a collaboration in terms a mathematician can understand. (Picture by Anna Haensch)

aBa Mbirika explains a collaboration in terms a mathematician can understand. (Picture by Anna Haensch)

The JMM Maze

I have been coming to the JMM for 9 years, but never have I been so confused by the locations of talks and the general layout of the meetings. There is an International Tower in the Hyatt and an International Level in the Marriott, there is an Atrium, a Lobby, but both could be either, there are too many Ballrooms to count, there are TWO food courts (which I found out about when trying to meet people for lunch at the food court)….

But don’t worry, I found an accurate map that might help. Best of luck out there! And remember there are TWO FOOD COURTS.

Escher's "Relativity".

Escher’s “Relativity”.

 

Women in Math Book-ends

The AWM reception room, full of fun people (and yes, a cash bar!).

The AWM reception room, full of fun people (and yes, a cash bar!).

As mentioned in my previous post, Day 1 was a busy one. It started off with a 9am-1:30pm marathon at the AWM Executive Committee meeting (my last, sadly, I will miss working with these amazing women), stuff happened in the middle (diversity panel, exhibits, Math Institutes reception, Hidden Figures panel), and ended up with the AWM Reception.

Emily Sergel, UCSD, receives the AWM Dissertation Award from outgoin President Kristin Lauter (right, and incoming President Ami Radunskaya. (Other winners, not pictured: Dana Mendelson, U Chicago, and Yunquing Tang, Harvard).

Emily Sergel, UCSD, receives the AWM Dissertation Award from outgoing President Kristin Lauter (right), and incoming President Ami Radunskaya (left). (Other winners, not pictured: Dana Mendelson, U Chicago, and Yunquing Tang, Harvard).

The AWM reception has gone through a bit of a metamorphosis in the last few years, according to Kristin Lauter, outgoing AWM President. She said that it sued to be just an open reception, right after the Gibbs lecture. People would file out of the lecture and just grab food, maybe a drink, and leave without even knowing that they had been at an AWM event. It was even mentioned (perhaps jokingly, but still disturbingly) that some older male mathematicians talked about “picking up” women at the AWM reception. One of many amazing things Kristin Lauter did in her term as President was to give the reception a little bit more purpose. It still happens after the Gibbs lecture, but in a dedicated room that you have to go to intentionally (not just walk past after a lecture). The AWM Dissertation, Alice T. Schafer, and Service awards are handed out then, and there is usually even a song! I think it definitely has improved in the last few years, and still kept an informal, celebratory, and welcoming atmosphere, with some added purpose. It is an event I never miss.

Hannah Larson, Harvard, wins the Alice T. Schafer Prize.

Hannah Larson, Harvard, wins the Alice T. Schafer Prize.

On a side note, I mentioned to a few friends that I was going and they mentioned they couldn’t go because they were not women, or if they were women they felt they couldn’t go because they were not members. This, by the way, is not true: neither membership nor gender are checked at the door, and everyone is welcome. However, maybe we (AWM members and volunteers) could do better at promoting the inclusive and welcoming nature of the event.

Left to right, Michelle Manes (recipient of one of the AWM Service Awards), Ami Radunskaya (incoming AWM President), AWM Executive Director Magnhild Lien, and yours truly. Picture courtesy of Alina Bucur.

Left to right, Michelle Manes (recipient of one of the AWM Service Awards), Ami Radunskaya (incoming AWM President), AWM Executive Director Magnhild Lien, and yours truly. Sort of blocked by my phone, Kristin Lauter. Picture courtesy of Alina Bucur.

 

Christine Dardern (left) and Margot Lee Shetterly (middle) get honorary memberships to the AWM from Kristin Lauter (right).

Christine Darden (left) and Margot Lee Shetterly (middle) get honorary memberships to the AWM from Kristin Lauter (right).

And of course, a song, written by Ami Randuskaya during the EC meeting breaks, and inspired by Hidden Figures.

And of course, a song, written by Ami Randuskaya during the EC meeting breaks, and inspired by Hidden Figures.

Diversity in the classroom: a panel from the point of view of the panelist

As opposed to my amazing blogging peers, I have not had a second (until just now) to sit down on my computer and write about what I’ve been doing. The good news (I guess) is that I’ve been doing a lot! One such thing was to participate in a Project NExT panel on How to Successfully Enhance Cultural Diversity in the Mathematics Classroom and Beyond . I was joined by Darryl Yong, from Harvey Mudd College, and Richard Laugesen, from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

I was asked to talk about stereotype threat and implicit bias, Darryl talked more about how to create an inclusive classroom, and Rick wrapped this up by talking about diversity among math majors, graduate students, and faculty. Let me start by saying what I said in the beginning of the panel: my imposter syndrome was seriously triggered by being next to these two amazing and accomplished people, having a full room of Project NExTers and friends,  and being somehow considered an expert in topics that I do not feel I’m an expert in. However, I have had some personal experience with all of these things, so I decided that it would be useful to share some of the definitions, but also examples from my own life relating to the definitions. Also, I wanted to make sure to share some of the resources that really helped me. I had to reread and re-research a few things that I knew a long time ago – often I remember the research as stories (“there was this one time that some researchers primed White men by telling them that Asian men usually do better in that math test, and the White men underperformed!”) rather than the exact article (it’s this one). I was actually very happy to do this, since I think now with more experience I understand these things a lot better, and have a better sense of what the solutions in the classroom should be. My friend Brian said that the best part was my summary of Jo Boaler’s recommendations from her book Mathematical Mindsets, so I thought I would share them again here! So, to ensure that all math students have an equal chance to succeed, Boaler recommends the following:

  • Offer high-level content
  • Change ideas on who can achieve in mathematics (the movie “Hidden Figures” is doing exactly that!)
  • Encourage deep thinking
  • Encourage students to work in groups/collaborate
  • Give additional/intentional encouragement to women and students of color.
  • Make work meaningful (not busy work/too much homework).

The other panelists were, as expected, really really great. Darryl Yong touched on some of the topics I mentioned, but in my opinion did so more eloquently, for example, the fact that active learning classrooms satisfy all the conditions I outlined above, and has been shown to benefit everyone, but most importantly it levels the playing field for women and students of color. So why wouldn’t you want to use more active teaching methods? He was also careful to say that there is no one way to do this, just that empowering the student to be in charge of their learning can do wonders for feelings of belonging and for succeeding in STEM. One more thing he mentioned that I thought was very important was that one needs to be transparent: explain to your students why you are teaching the way you are, share this research with them, give clear expectations (write them down!), be honest about how they will be evaluated and what you value most. This has also been shown to improve performance in math classes.

Rick Laugesen told us about all the amazing things he and his colleagues have been doing to increase diversity and retention in their undergraduate and graduate programs at UIUC, in particular his amazing work with mentoring. He was the recipient of a Sloan Foundation award for the project “Making way for a New Generation in STEM: A Proposal for The Illinois Sloan University Center of Exemplary Mentoring” ($1 million) in 2015, and they are putting the money to good use. What was most impressive to me was that he looks at the potential of a student, rather than previous accomplishments, in order to decide whether they will get into the graduate program. For example, they look at the GRE subject test, but they don’t really use it as a way to weed out students. That is certainly a good way to even the playing field.

But I guess my favorite thing about participating in the panel, besides learning from my fellow panelists, was sharing ideas and knowledge with my younger peers, and listening to their careful comments and questions. It didn’t necessarily eliminate my imposter syndrome, but at the very least I felt like I had something important to contribute, while at the same time knowing that I have a lot more to learn. Not bad for an afternoon.

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Counting down to JMM 2017!

Another year, another Joint Mathematics Meetings extravaganza. In this blog, my collaborators and I will be sharing posts on our experiences, pictures of the conference, assorted stories, and summaries of our favorite talks. I’m excited to be joined this year by Anna Haensch, co-editor of the AMS Blog on Math Blogs, Beth Malmskog, co-editor of my old blogging ground PhD+epsilon, and newcomer Kelsey Houston-Edwards, host and writer of the wonderful PBS Infinite Series on YouTube.

Read more »