Call To Action: The Shutdown Hurt Science; Ask Congress To Avoid Another

Take action today and tell your elected officials–especially if they are members of the Conference Committee–to demonstrate resolve and forge a final package before February 15. You can use this editable email (written by Research!America) to contact your Congressional delegation–make your voice heard!

The congressional committee is tasked with reconciling differences in legislation and producing a deal that can not only pass both chambers, but meet with the president’s approval.

Scientists will be feeling the impact of the shutdown for some time. The NSF, as they resume operations, is publishing information. Many deadlines have been pushed back, making it clear that progress in science will be delayed.

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NSF’s “We are Mathematics” Video Competition deadline extended

The deadline for entries to the NSF “We Are Mathematics” Video Competition has been extended to February 28, 2019. This extension is due to the partial government shutdown. The NSF was closed but is now up and running again, and their activities are resuming as soon as possible.

See my January 9 blog post about this contest, for more information:

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Students! We want you to attend the “Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) Workshop”


The American Mathematical Society (AMS) sponsors two students to participate in the Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop, organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This annual event introduces STEM students to the federal policy-making process, and empowers them to become advocates for basic research throughout their careers. Selected students will participate in a three-and-a-half day workshop in Washington, DC learning about the structure and organization of Congress, the federal budget and appropriations processes, and tools for effective science communication and civic engagement. The AMS will cover all workshop and travel costs.

The next workshop will be held March 24-27, 2019 in Washington, DC. Sponsored students must attend the entire workshop.

Eligibility requirements: Students eligible for AMS sponsorship must be enrolled full-time in an undergraduate or graduate degree program in the mathematical sciences at an institution located in the U.S. Students from foreign countries are eligible.

How to apply: Please submit a one-page resume, a brief statement of interest (maximum 500 words), and the names of three references. References are not required to submit letters but should be asked for their permission to list their name. Submit all materials here:

NEXT APPLICATION DEADLINE: 11:59pm Pacific Time on Sunday February 10, 2019

More information about this exciting opportunity is found at:

Posted in Advocacy, Communicating Mathematics, Graduate students, Student opportunity, Undergraduate students | Tagged | Leave a comment

Enter to win (fame and fortune): “We are Mathematics” video competition


Have you received NSF support for your research or worked on an NSF-supported project?

Are you enthusiastic about making videos?

Do you yearn to explain your mathematics to a broader audience?

The National Science Foundation (NSF) invites you to submit a short video (up to 3 minutes) showcasing your NSF-funded work in the mathematical sciences in a way that is exciting and accessible to a broad audience. The portal for submission is open and will close at 11:59 PM EST on February 15, 2019.

Anyone whose work in the mathematical sciences has been or is currently supported by NSF (and is 18 or older) can enter, including

  • principal investigators (PIs),
  • co-PIs,
  • Graduate Research Fellows,
  • Postdoctoral Research Fellows,
  • REU site coordinators, REU students,
  • trainees in an NSF-funded traineeship program,
  • scholars in an NSF-funded scholarship program.

Entries can be submitted by individuals or teams at the following levels (each comes with a $3000 prize):

  • Level 1: K-12 or Undergraduate
  • Level 2: Graduate
  • Level 3: Postdoctoral or Early Career
  • Level 4: Mid or Advanced Career

Videos will be evaluated by a panel of judges, based on the following criteria:

  1. Creativity (20%)
  2. Clarity and accuracy of mathematical concepts and ideas (20%)
  3. Communicating mathematics in an accessible and exciting way (40%)
  4. Artistic and technical quality (20%)

Winners will be featured at the 2019 National Math Festival. This is a free and public celebration held in Washington, D.C. each odd-numbered spring. In 2017, over 20,000 math lovers participated!

For more information or to register and submit an entry, visit the competition website.




Posted in Communicating Mathematics, Federal support for science, National Science Foundation | Tagged | Leave a comment

AMS Office of Government Relations Activities at the Joint Mathematics Meetings


Each year at the JMM, my office organizes four events.


We host an annual workshop for department chairs, held in the same location as and just prior to the JMM. This one-day workshop for mathematical sciences department chairs and leaders is organized in a workshop format to facilitate the sharing of ideas and experiences between peers and to create an environment in which attendees can address departmental challenges from new perspectives. The January 15 workshop features four interactive sessions, encouraging networking and sharing of ideas amongst participants:

  1. Reassessing the relationship between pure and applied mathematics (Doug Mupasiri, University of Northern Iowa & Jennifer Zhao, University of Michigan-Dearborn)
  2. Math in the data movement (Doug Mupasiri & Gloria Marí-Beffa, University of Wisconsin-Madison)
  3. Professional development and evaluating faculty (Malcolm Adams, University of Georgia & Jennifer Zhao)
  4. The next step: moving to higher administration (Gloria Marí-Beffa)

The deadline has been extended to Wednesday January 2. If you miss 2019, we invite you to attend the 2020 workshop in Denver!


The Office of Government Relations works with two of the AMS policy committees—the Committee on Education and the Committee on Science Policy. Each of these holds a session at the JMM each year.

This year the Committee on Education will host a Guided Discussion (Thursday 1:00-2:30 pm in Room 315, BCC) on “Evidence-based teaching: how do we all get there?” David Pengelly (Oregon State University), Dev Sinha (University of Oregon), and Ravi Vakil (Stanford University) designed and will lead the discussion. Compelling reasons and resources are now in place to support shifting our pedagogy toward evidence-based active learning methods that substantially improve student success.  These include the recent CBMS Statement on Active Learning, MAA Instructional Practices Guide, and MIT Electronic Mathematics Education Seminar.  However, implementation is not quick and easy. There are still plenty of obstacles, individual and institutional, along with opportunities. This event will foster small group discussion, and solicit ideas. Issues include graduate student and early career training; developing departmental experts who can lead and mentor large enrollment courses; an inventory tool of teaching practices for observations and training; program evaluation and deeper, more authentic learning outcomes; programming for department chairs; redesigning the publishing of teaching materials, possibly through new economic models. Audience members should leave better prepared to implement active learning pedagogy themselves and advocate for it in their departments, connect with faculty elsewhere in doing so, and influence national efforts.

The Committee on Science Policy session (Friday 2:30-4:00 pm in Room 316, BCC) will be a staged conversation with the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) new heads of the Directorates for Mathematical & Physical Sciences (MPS) and Education & Human Resources (EHR).  Dr. Anne Kinney is a PhD astrophysicist and came to NSF/MPS in January 2018. MPS supports fundamental research in astronomy, chemistry, physics, materials science and mathematics.  Dr. Karen Marrongelle holds a PhD in mathematics education and joined NSF/EHR in October 2018. EHR supports STEM education at all levels. I will facilitate the conversation about Dr. Kinney’s vision for the Division of Mathematical Sciences, Dr. Marrongelle’s vision for mathematics work in EHR, and their joint views on how the mathematical sciences fit with larger programs at the NSF. There will be time for audience Q&A.


Lastly, we host the Congressional Fellowship Session on Friday afternoon, 4:30-6:00 pm in Room 316, BCC. This one-year fellowship provides a public policy learning experience, demonstrates the value of science-government interaction and brings a technical background and external perspective to the decision-making process in Congress.  Learn more about this program and speak with current and former AMS Fellows. Panelists this year are the current AMS Congressional Fellow James Ricci (Senator Amy Klobuchar office) and Jennifer Pearl (PhD mathematician and Director of the Science & Technology Policy Fellowships Program at the American Association for the Advancement of Science). Application deadline for 2019-20 AMS Congressional Fellowship is February 15, 2019.


Where else will we be?

On Saturday 11:00-11:50 am, JPBM Communications Award winner Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures, will receive her award and be interviewed by Talithia Williams of Harvey Mudd College. I am pleased that U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen will join us and give remarks at the beginning of the event. Senator Van Hollen represents Maryland and is a co-sponsor of a bill to award Congressional Gold Medals to Hidden Figures Christine Darden, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan. The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the U.S. Following the interview, starting at noon, Shetterly will be available for a meet-and-greet and autograph signing.


Looking forward to seeing you all in Baltimore!

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Sexual Harassment and a “Call to Action”

UPDATE: At the bottom of this post I discuss Secretary DeVos’s proposed changes to Title IX guidelines. Since I published this post, the comment period has opened. You can give feedback until January 28, 2019. This link should bring you directly to the place for comments:

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines define sexual harassment as:

Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

There’s been a lot of action in D.C. amongst science organizations on sexual harassment recently. I’m glad.

It is old news (really old news) that we have a problem in mathematics departments across the country. I don’t single out our academic field as being the only one with bad players and an entrenched culture that often protects and even supports them, hardly. As a community, we need to engage in these larger national conversations, educate our colleagues as we can, make it a priority to reduce (and ideally eliminate) harassment in our own field, and hold all mathematical scientists responsible for their actions. In addition to the horrors of sexual harassment, we must also face the problem of workplace sexism. Lenore Blum describes this “quieter but equally destructive problem” in her explanation of her resignation from Carnegie Mellon University earlier this fall. Both sexual harassment and sexism work to keep women excluded from successful academic careers.

Other AMS blogs have addressed this topic, read here and here and here. This column offers info about what is going on in D.C.-based conversations in Congress, at NASEM, AAAS, NSF, and at the Department of Education that we should all know about. [NOTE: I put that phrase in italics simply to emphasize that, of course and thank goodness, there are many conversations going on about this, including on many campuses.] The acronyms just mentioned are spelled out below; keep reading.

In early October, the Ranking Member of the House Science Committee, Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, introduced a bill to address sexual harassment in the sciences. The AMS has endorsed the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act (H.R. 7031), which calls for research into the cause and consequences of sexual harassment in the sciences and the exploration of policies to reduce the prevalence and negative impact of such harassment. If you are so inclined, look to see if your Representative is a co-sponsor and, if so, write and thank them for their support.

A report released in June by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) studied the influence of sexual harassment in academia on the career advancement of women in the scientific, technical, and medical workforce. It found that sexual harassment in STEM fields is a “serious issue for women at all levels in academic science, engineering, and medicine, and that these fields share characteristics that create conditions that make harassment more likely to occur,” and “the consequence of this is a significant and costly loss of talent in science, engineering, and medicine.” It has been repeatedly reported that women are harassed out of careers in these fields; a 2016 Atlantic article describes the many forms this harassment can take. Referring to previous research, the NASEM report notes that 58% of female faculty and staff (across all disciplines) experience sexual harassment.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) adopted a Fellow revocation policy on September 15. The AAAS will consider revoking Fellow status “in cases of proven scientific misconduct, serious breaches of professional ethics, or when the Fellow in the view of AAAS otherwise no longer merits the status of Fellow.” On October 1, AMS Executive Director Catherine Roberts participated at a daylong meeting of scientific and engineering society leadership to discuss our community’s response to the issue of harassment in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medical (STEMM) fields.

The NSF, which provides the majority of federal funding to the mathematical sciences academic research community, has announced new measures to protect the research community from harassment. The new policy  went into effect on October 21 and requires “awardee organizations to notify the agency of:

  1. Any findings or determinations that an NSF-funded principal investigator or co-principal investigator committed harassment, including sexual harassment or sexual assault.
  2. The placement of the principal investigator (PI) or co-principal investigator (co-PI) on administrative leave, or of the imposition of any administrative action relating to a harassment or sexual assault finding or investigation.”

Upon receiving such a report, the NSF will work with the awardee organization to determine an appropriate course of action. The NSF considers the PI and co-PIs to be in positions of trust and thus one possible course of action will be the removal of PIs and co-PIS from the grant. Other possible actions include reducing award funding, and suspension or termination of awards.

The reporting requirement currently applies to PIs and co-PIs. It is not considered a final step by the NSF, and is part of their ongoing issues to address these issues. This is a remarkable new policy. Over 2,000 U.S. institutions of higher education and other organizations (including the AMS) receive NSF funds.

What are our responsibilities, as a professional society, in regard to how we address sexual harassment in mathematics?

The AMS has taken important steps in this evolving landscape. [Again, a NOTE: This is not to imply that other professional societies are sitting idle; they are not.]

The AMS Policy Statement on Anti-Harassment expands on the society view that “harassment, sexual or otherwise, is a form of misconduct that undermines the integrity of AMS activities and mission.” The AMS Policy on a Welcoming Environment positions the society as supporting “equality of opportunity and treatment for all participants, regardless of gender, gender identity or expression, race, color, national or ethnic origin, religion or religious belief, age, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities, or veteran status.” In order to foster an atmosphere encouraging free expression and exchange of ideas, the AMS includes a statement concerning its expectations towards maintaining a welcoming environment in registration materials for all its meetings, and has put in place a mechanism for confidential and anonymous reporting of violations.

[Final NOTE: I am not trying to give you the idea that the AMS is the only disciplinary society to take such steps; please don’t leave with that impression! Take a look at the policies of whatever society you consider “home” and if they are unsatisfactory, take action!]

What can you do? Act on this “call to action”

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos released her anticipated and controversial proposal revising the Obama administration Title IX guidelines, including new modifications to how sexual harassment and assault are defined and investigated on campuses. This proposal is of course not specific to mathematics or even science, but will affect all of higher education. For example, the new rules grant an accused student the right to cross-examine their accuser. DeVos’s proposal has come under severe attack and has advocates worried, as your quick Google search will show. There has been much written about this and I will not add anything here. What I want to call your attention to is that the proposal will be open for public comment for 60 days after it is posted. The proposal has been sent to the Office of the Federal Register but has not yet been scheduled for publication. Anticipated publishing date is unknown, so it is best to actively monitor the federal register, looking for posting date. Once the ruling appears there, a link will appear for you to make comments. You can also read these general guidelines about how you will be able find this new proposed policy and how to comment during the 60 day period. This is your opportunity to weigh in on Secretary DeVos’s sexual assault policy.

Posted in Sexual Harassment | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The election outcome and what it means for mathematicians


This post contains three parts:

  • a long section on the newly elected members of Congress and the potential committee shake-ups that will affect the NSF and other science agencies;
  • a shorter section on redistricting legislation that passed on November 6; and
  • An even shorter section on the number of women coming to Congress in 2019.

Election day winners and losers and what it mean for committees with jurisdiction over the NSF

In the November 6 election, seven newcomers with a graduate degree in a STEM field, or a medical degree, were successful in their bids for seats in the House and will join the 116th Congress in Washington, D.C. on January 6.

The seven are Sean Casten (D-IL), Joe Cunningham (D-SC), Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Elaine Luria (D-VA), who are all engineers; pediatrician Kim Schrier (D-WA); Lauren Underwood (D-IL), a registered nurse; and dentist Jeff van Drew (D-NJ).

Elaine Luria has a BS in physics and a Master of Engineering Management (MEM). As an engineer, she operating nuclear reactors in the Navy.

Chrissy Houlahan has an undergraduate engineering degree from Stanford and an MS in Technology and Policy from MIT. She has taught high school science and most recently worked for a non-profit focusing on early childhood literacy in underserved populations.

Joe Cunningham has a bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering. He worked in this field, in industry, until the 2008 recession when he returned to law school.

Sean Casten a BA in molecular biology and biochemistry, a MEM and an MS in biochemical engineering. His career has been in the private sector and focused on clean energy technologies.

Re-elected to Congress are PhD mathematician Jerry McNerney (D-CA) and PhD physicist Bill Foster (D-IL).

There are four committees with power over the NSF; these are the “appropriating” and “authorizing” committees for each of the House and Senate. These committees also appropriate funds for and regulate and write policies governing NASA, NIST and other science programs.

The Appropriations Committees decide how much money the NSF receives each year, money that is then awarded to scientists to support their research. Senate-side, not much will change: we expect Richard Shelby to remain as chair, and Jerry Moran to remain as chair of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee (this subcommittee has NSF in its portfolio). In the House, the flip to Democrat control means that there will be more musical chairs. While not yet certain, it is expected that Nita Lowey will chair of the Appropriations Committee and José Serrano will chair of the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee.

In appropriations, committee structure is neat in that it is identical in both chambers. Not so with other committees. In each chamber there is a committee with oversight of the NSF (non-funding policies). These are the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology and the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Eddie Bernice Johnson has submitted her bid to chair the House committee and we expect that will come to pass. Jeff Mervis of Science magazine interviewed her and they spoke about her thoughts on the work of the committee, including oversight of the NSF, academic espionage, STEM education, and sexism in science. In the Senate, John Thune will probably not continue as chair of the Senate committee because he is expected to be named the majority whip; in this case Roger Wicker will probably take over as chair of this committee.

While bringing new science proponents to Congress is great news, we also lost some allies. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), John Culberson (R-TX), Randy Hultgren (R-IL), and Kevin Yoder (R-KS) all lost their re-election bids. Comstock has been a leader advancing women in STEM fields and combating sexual harassment in science. Culberson is a proponent of planetary science and space exploration, and his efforts have led to years of increased funding for NASA. Hultgren’s district includes Fermilab and he has been an effective supporter of the Department of Energy’s national laboratory system. Yoder has been a strong voice for basic science research and for medical research in particular and his efforts have resulted in higher funding for the National Institutes of Health. Comstock and Hultgren are current members of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Culberson and Yoder both serve on the Appropriations Committee, with Culberson chairing the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Subcommittee.

The House also lost Jacky Rosen (D-NV)–a computer programmer, software developer, and proponent of programs to support women and girls in science–but she won her bid for the Senate seat so will remain in Congress. It is not clear whether or not Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) will remain, as his election has gone to a recount. Nelson is an astronaut and major ally of the STEM community.

Redistricting reform in the states

The mathematical and statistical sciences have always played a fundamental role in drawing voting district plans, and with modern predictive techniques and computing power, can play an increasingly powerful role in this process. The AMS does not endorse any one approach or metric for measuring fairness of voting district plans. We do urge, however, that mathematics and statistical science be employed to evaluate the fairness of district plans and have put out a policy statement to this effect.

Congressional redistricting is done by the states and there is a wide variety of complicated and ever-changing laws guiding the decennial process.

Colorado, Michigan and Missouri all passed measures amending their state constitutions to create independent redistricting commissions. This brings the total number of states to nine that will use independent commissions to draw state legislative districts and eight that will use these commissions for state and federal districts following the 2020 census.

Colorado voters considered two ballot measures to amend the state constitution; each passed with over 70% of the vote. Under the two amendments (Y is for congressional lines, Z for state legislative ones) a twelve-person commission comprising four Republicans, four Democrats and four unaffiliated members will be tasked with coming up with the new maps. Districts will need to be competitive. Competitive is defined in Colorado as having a reasonable potential to change parties at least once every ten years, and measuring competitiveness entails evidenced-based analyses, voter registration data, and past election results.

In Michigan, Proposal 2 passed and transferred the power to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts from the state legislature to a 13-member independent redistricting commission. Proposal 2 requires commissioners to prioritize specific criteria, including compliance with federal laws; equal population sizes; geographic contiguity; demographics and communities of similar historical, cultural, or economic interests; no advantages to political parties; no advantages to incumbents; municipal boundaries; and compactness.

The Missouri measure is arguably the most interesting to the mathematical and statistical sciences community. Missouri currently has two legislative redistricting commissions that draw maps for the state house and senate respectively. Voters in Missouri approved Proposition 1, which created a position called the “non-partisan state demographer.” There will be no change to the composition of the commissions. Amendment 1 requires the state demographer and commissions to consider specific criteria, including what the initiative calls partisan fairness and competitiveness, contiguity, compactness, and existing boundaries of political subdivisions. Partisan fairness means that parties shall be able to translate their popular support into legislative representation with approximately equal efficiency. Competitiveness means that parties’ legislative representation shall be substantially and similarly responsive to shifts in the electorate’s preferences. Wasted votes (as in the efficiency gap) are to be counted in measuring fairness. Missouri voters supported this constitutional amendment which also makes changes to the state’s lobbying laws, and sets campaign finance limits for state legislative candidates.

Utah had a similar measure on the ballot to set up an independent commission and set criteria for the line-drawers. As of now, Proposition 4 has the majority of the votes, but it is a very slim majority and the result has not been finalized.

In addition, several states passed ballot measures having to do with voting rights, including on automatic voter registration (NV, MI, MD), requiring photo-IDs (AR and NC), and restoring voting rights for felons (FL).

Number of women in Congress

Ok, I cannot end without telling you this piece of news. This election sends over 100 women to the House of Representatives. This shatters the old record of 84 of the 435. The number of female Senators will remain 23.

Posted in Congress, National Science Foundation, Redistricting | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Voting Rights Data Institute for Students


Editor’s Notes: (1) Democracy counts on voters voting; please vote on November 6! (2) This post is written by three undergraduates who spent much of their summer working on gerrymandering. I invited them to share their experiences applying their mathematical and statistical know-how, and working in a multi-disciplinary group to tackle this societal problem.  Redistricting affects the House of Representatives, members of which stand for election every two years. Redistricting is a decennial process and the next round will occur as soon as 2020 Census numbers are established. States should have their new maps in place for the 2022 midterm elections.

Ruth Buck hard at work. Credit: Katya Kelly.

Our names are Ruth Buck, Katie Jolly, and Katya Kelly.  We spent this past summer as undergraduate fellows at the Voting Rights Data Institute (VRDI), a program of the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group (MGGG). We are a combination of recent graduates and seniors in the geography and applied math/statistics departments at Macalester College in Saint Paul, MN. The program was a group of 52 undergraduate and graduate students interested in applying math and computer science to redistricting and voting rights. Over the course of the summer, participants worked on projects related to graph theory, software development, operationalizing state rules for districting, and a wide variety of other topics.

Each week we filled out a survey about our interests and goals and then were assigned to work on one of many projects. Each project group focused on one aspect of gerrymandering research and then presented their work in an informal session at the end of the week. Some groups had more of a theoretical focus, while other groups were much more applied. Then, the next week the process began again.

We rotated projects for the first three or four weeks and then chose a few to focus on for the remainder of the summer. One group created an open-source software to allow community members to create districting plans interactively while another explored discrete compactness measures. An overarching goal of VRDI was to build software that uses a Markov chain Monte Carlo algorithm to explore the space of possible districting plans to evaluate gerrymandering. Participants worked on this project throughout the entire summer, writing and rewriting thousands of lines of code. There were dozens of other projects, many of which are freely available and open-source on the MGGG GitHub page.

The main project that the three of us worked on  was creating a shapefile of Ohio’s precinct boundaries. The precinct is the smallest geographic unit that election results are reported at. To do any sort of meaningful, high-resolution analysis of election results, one has to have access to precinct boundaries. The problem that arises here is that for most states, there is no central repository where precinct boundaries are stored.

Digitized images of Ohio. Compiled by Emilia Alvarez.

Digitized images of Ohio. Compiled by Emilia Alvarez.

While states like Minnesota and California store their precinct boundaries on the Secretary of State website for public use, most states, including Ohio, leave the creation and storage of precinct boundaries completely up to the counties. More populous counties are able to employ GIS specialists to manage their precinct boundaries and other spatial data, but smaller counties often lack the resources.

Our project involved many telephone calls to each of the 88 Ohio counties, digitizing hundreds of PDF and paper maps, and innovating ways to use the Ohio voterfile to interpolate precinct boundaries in areas where no other information was available. A voterfile is a list of registered voters that often also includes information about voting history. In Ohio this data is publicly available, but that is not the case in every state.

Not only were we responsible for coordinating the efforts of sometimes more than twenty people, but we were also responsible for teaching the vast majority of whom who had never used GIS how to digitize maps. We gained skills in organization, documentation, and writing clear, concise help guides.

The role of math and statistics in policy issues is often underappreciated. The work we did this summer made clear to us how intertwined math and politics really are. For example, take some state’s rules for redistricting, which may require that a redrawn district be “compact.” Compactness is a complicated mathematical concept with many acceptable approaches. The decision to take one approach over another can have a significant impact on the political environment of the new district.

In public policy, it’s important to be able to communicate results clearly and effectively. Statistics are important not only in terms of reporting numbers but also for providing meaningful interpretations of what these numbers imply. It’s easy to get lost in technical terms, but being able to explain the work to the appropriate audience is invaluable in the world of voting rights.

Gerrymandering is detrimental to the sustainability of our most basic civil rights. MGGG is active and seeking innovative ideas to help combat partisan gerrymandering in redistricting. With the 2020 census approaching, there is an abundance of work to be done in a variety of disciplines. We encourage anyone who is inspired by the goals of MGGG and concerned about the future of voting rights to get involved with the group. More information is available on their website.

We would like to acknowledge the work of Moon Duchin, Justin Solomon, Daryl DeFord, and Aidan Kestigian in organizing a spectacular summer program. Thank you also to the the MIT Prof. Amar G. Bose Research Grant and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University for funding this opportunity. We are excited to see the Voting Rights Data Institute continue and make a meaningful impact on the future of democracy.

Posted in Broadening particpation in STEM, Higher Education, Redistricting | Tagged | Leave a comment

Good news! Great reports now available to all!


CRS reports are now public!!

What in the world is she talking about, you ask? What is “CRS” and who cares about their reports? Please do read on…..

Say you want to learn more about the role of the federal government in STEM education, type “STEM education” into the search field and up come reports on this topic. You will even see one by Boris Granovskiy—the 2014-15 AMS-sponsored Congressional Fellow who moved directly from his fellowship into his current position at CRS.

Might be me, but I love these reports and spend many hours reading them (ok, so maybe this really is just me). Reports can be downright fascinating to read, such as this one on women in Congress. They can be useful in teaching, such as this one about the hurricanes that hit the US in 2017 (of course, it depends what you are teaching but you might find yourself talking about modeling hurricanes or predicting storms in a math class). Say you want to know the average age of current Members of Congress; look no further than the report on members of the 115th Congress! Answer: 58 years old in the House, 62 in the Senate. Or, say you are interested in finding out about current legislative activity around unauthorized children arriving in the U.S.; you can find that too.

When I was the AMS-sponsored Congressional Fellow (2013-2104), I learned what a truly amazing resource the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is for Congressional members and their staff. I could call in the morning, talk to someone immediately, discuss the issue I needed information on, and have a report within 48 hours (and often by the end of the business day). Their reports are concise, well researched and non-partisan. (All this is not to imply that the CRS is the only place Congressional members get good information; they typically have very knowledgeable staff members, well-versed in whatever subject area they work on for their boss—agriculture, education, transportation, government oversight, etc.).

I typically requested help from the CRS when I was preparing my Senator for a hearing on, say, the Higher Education Act (first signed into law in 1965 and containing a lot of things you might/should care about if you work in academia). It has been updated since (most recently in 2008), and is (over-)due for another update. Indeed, both House and Senate have introduced their own new versions. If I wanted to read about the House version, I might well turn to read the CRS report on this so-called PROSPER Act.

Oh, and have I mentioned that the staff members talk to you on the phone and will come meet you to discuss the topic you are requesting information about? This was very useful–sometimes you don’t quite know what the right questions are (at least, I didn’t). Reports are prepared to assist Members of Congress and congressional committee staff “at every stage of the legislative process—from the early considerations that precede bill drafting, through committee hearings and floor debate, to the oversight of enacted laws and various agency activities.”

The CRS is part of the Library of Congress and serves at the pleasure of Congress. President Woodrow Wilson signed the law establishing the agency in 1914. No one outside of Congress can request a report. In the past, once you had one of these reports, however, you could share it with whomever you wanted, including posting on websites. For example, the Federation of American Scientists ( used to distribute select reports, many of which can still be found at that website.

While it remains the case that the CRS serves only Congress, the reports are now publicly available (caveat: some of the reports are confidential and remain off-limits). This change was mandated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2018. This law required that reports become available by September 18, 2018. You can find reports at the CRS website.

Note that the upload process is manual, and being done in reverse chronological order. So right now, you are just seeing the most recently released or updated reports. As the rollout process progresses, more and more active reports will be available. Just one example of what is lacking is that one of my very favorite reports on the Higher Education Act is not accessible through this search process yet.

You can find reports at the CRS website.

Happy reading!





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Submit your big and wonderful ideas by October 26

We know that mathematics touches every other field of science funded by the NSF. I hope that the next set of “big ideas”—that help guide NSF funding priorities—reflect that. We have an opportunity and, arguably, a responsibility to make this happen.

It would be terrific if mathematical scientists contributed to the open call, the “Ideas Machine 2026” described below. I encourage mathematical scientists to join together with others, both in math and from other fields, to submit ideas.

The Directorate for Mathematical & Physical Sciences (MPS) Advisory Committee met on August 14-15, 2018. The presentations from the meeting, including a presentation by the MPS liaison Lin He on the Ideas Machine 2026 activity, can be found at . Suggestions of Blue Ribbon Panelists for the Ideas Machine 2026 activity can be sent directly to Dr. He( (please copy your suggestion to

In her monthly message, NSF Director France Córdova describes the call for the new ideas and instead of trying to re-write her words, I provide hers:

“Inspired by the momentum and impact of the NSF’s 10 Big Ideas, we have been considering what kinds of initiatives could be launched today to set the stage for breakthrough discoveries and innovations in 2026 and beyond. Why 2026? It’s the 250th anniversary of our nation’s birth, an event–we think–to be widely celebrated with momentous discoveries.

Our external stakeholders are critical to our planning process for 2026. To gather input from researchers, the public and other interested groups, the NSF recently launched the NSF 2026 Idea Machine competition. Participants–those who do not work for the NSF–can earn prizes and receive public recognition by suggesting the pressing research questions that will require answers in the coming decade. In other words, the public has the opportunity to formulate the next set of Big Ideas for future investment. This is an opportunity to help set the U.S. agenda for fundamental research in science and engineering (S&E). It’s an invitation to contribute to the NSF’s mission to support basic research that drives the economy, enhances its security and helps sustain U.S. global leadership in S&E. Entries will be accepted through Oct. 26, 2018. The NSF plans to announce the winners in August 2019.

Please visit the Idea Machine website for additional information about eligibility, rules, judging and submission instructions. We encourage the public, including high school classrooms, to submit entries. Help us spread the word about the competition. By enlarging the pool of ideas, we hope to uncover new sparks that will ignite future areas of discovery. Could one of the next 10 Big Ideas be on your laptop?”



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