This fall I helped some students organize the Villanova Student Chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics (VSCAWM). While we currently have the worst acronym ever, the group is going really well. I decided to start a student chapter last spring after going to the AWM Research Symposium at the University of Maryland. I tried to find students to bring along to the meeting, but nobody seemed interested. I realized that the students probably had no idea what AWM was or why they would want to be involved. Since AWM has done a lot for me (given me money for conferences, opportunities to speak, connections with amazing women in math, and the chance to see these same women singing parody songs at the AWM reception at the Joint Meetings every year), I thought it was time to share that with the Villanova students. The risks: still nobody would be interested and it would be a ton of work. In fact, it turned out that once I explained what the organization does, people were sold on AWM, and as a bonus, the organizational time-costs were fairly low.
Most of my work happened last fall, in September and October. I started by checking out the AWM Student Chapter section on their website—they have good information on getting started, and they are currently focusing on increasing the student chapter presence and adding more resources for the student chapters. Since I wasn’t really sure how many people would even read a random email announcement, I got permission from Villanova’s Math Club to go to a meeting and talk about AWM. At the Math Club meeting, I explained the mission of the organization and what it had meant for me. I asked people to sign up on a sheet of paper if they would like to be a part of a student chapter. Several people signed up, so I used Google forms to set a meeting date that worked for them, and then emailed all math majors and minors about an organizational meeting.
I reserved a room with 20 or so chairs, thinking that this was an ambitious number. When the day came, actually more like 35 students showed up. It was incredible! The students were great. At the first meeting, we introduced ourselves, read over the AWM student chapter bylaws, took nominations for the offices, and brainstormed ideas, including bringing in speakers, discussing articles and studies relevant to women in mathematics, taking field trips, and creating a mentoring system among the students.
All the nominees wrote blurbs about themselves, which I compiled into a ballot and emailed out. After the students voted, I announced the results and met with the new officers. We talked about how they wanted to run the meetings, and I gave them some ideas of what I thought would work.
The officers took over and ran the next meeting, and they have basically organized them ever since. I have helped with a few things, like applying for recognition by the national organization and reserving some rooms. However, my goal has been to get out of the way and let the students organize the best group for them. Of course I can’t stay out of it, mostly because I’m excited to contribute and have a lot of ideas for club activities. I’m hoping they don’t kick me out of their meetings for commenting too much. Seriously, I’m lucky they put up with me.
The members have already done some cool things, like develop a “buddy system” to help connect early majors with more experienced students. We had a meeting Tuesday, and everybody met their buddies. One of the students gave a great presentation on stereotype threat and its relevance to women in mathematics. We started making plans to put on a Julia Robinson Math festival this spring, and to take a field trip to MoMath.
This is the kind of service I can really get behind—service that is exactly what I wanted to do anyway! Starting this student chapter has allowed me to connect with students who are passionate about math, which I had been sorely missing. It has been interesting and heartening to see that students, both men and women, really care about women in math. Thanks, VSCAWM! Hmm, maybe AWMVSC? AWMSCV? If only we had a few more vowels, we could take over the world.