Mathematicians have a super power: problem-solving. This power must be good for more than wowing our students with trig substitution. Lately I have run into some inspiring examples of mathematicians working to help address some bigger problems in the larger world. I’m sharing these this week in PhD+Epsilon because I know a lot of early-career mathematicians care about these issues. Also, my experience is that it can be hard to figure out how to engage when you might be consumed by the wonders and horrors job market, isolated and overwhelmed in a new job, or, say, freaking out about creating your third-year review portfolio or tenure dossier. So here are some worthwhile math-centered, mathematician-created initiatives that help solve problems you really care about, and manageable ways you can get involved to contribute or connect with other math people who feel the same.
Equal Opportunity for Women and Girls: Girls’ Angle is a non-profit math club with a mission “To foster and nurture girls’ interest in mathematics and empower them to be able to tackle any field no matter the level of mathematical sophistication.” Girls’ Angle began in 2007 when founder Ken Fan began noticing a systemic bias against girls in math education. He says, “the more I thought about it, the more I came to see that the way math is generally taught in the US is biased against girls for a variety of reasons, some more subtle than others. I saw many Math Circles sprouting up, but most were coed, and I didn’t see any program just for girls, run by mathematicians, where girls could keep coming back for more math. So that’s how Girls’ Angle started.” The organization runs a weekly club for Cambridge-area girls, and has hosted over 80 Math Collaborations across a wider geographical region. These are alternatives to math competitions in which groups of girls work together to solve substantial mathematical problems. Girls’ Angle also produces a Bulletin with articles about mathematics for middle school to high school students, girls in particular. I recently had the opportunity to contribute an article to the Girls’ Angle Bulletin, and it was incredibly fun to write for this special audience. The bulletin is seeking articles on real math, aimed at a math-enthusiastic middle/high school audience, written by active researchers and scientists. According to Ken, “All kinds of formats are welcome, including experimental ones, but the 2 things we reject are a patronizing tone and the watering down of the math. (It’s fine to address basic math, so long as it isn’t over-simplified.)” The Bulletin even pays for articles that are used. If you are a woman who will be in the Cambridge area, another way to get involved with Girls’ Angle is to make a Support Network Visit. Support Network visitors are “professional women who use math in their work in some vital way and visit the club to show the girls how and for what they use math. They serve as role models and give members another reason to study math.”
To learn more, submit an article, or volunteer to make a visit, contact Ken Fan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Environment and Climate Change: Every time I buy a plane ticket to attend some amazing but far-flung math conference, my conscience cries out that I am doing more than my share to contribute to climate change, and that it’s my fault that polar bears are losing their homes. Thinking about her own sabbatical travel, my former advisor Rachel Pries created Math People for the Planet, a Facebook Group (I’m not on Facebook, but you should join!) for mathematicians to “start a discussion about how the math community can reduce its carbon emissions while maintaining the vibrant discussions at conferences.” The JMM is the perfect place to begin: Anne Ho and Melody Alsaker have put together a simple slide that you can add to your JMM talk to start a conversation about climate change and how mathematicians can help. Rachel also started a Sierra Club Group to pool donations from mathematicians. The money goes to the Sierra Club group on International Climate and Energy http://www.sierraclub.org/international. Donations through Dec 31 are doubled by an anonymous donor. Also at the JMM, check out the MAA Invited Paper Session on Role of Modeling & Understanding Environmental Risks on Wednesday afternoon, which was organized by Ben Fusaro and features many talks on climate change and environmental issues.
Social Justice: I believe that the mathematics classroom can be at the center of the social justice movement. However, figuring out exactly how to bring this together with meaningful, substantive classroom activities can be daunting. Luckily, other people have done a lot of work on this. This is the focus of a special session at the JMM: the MAA Special Session on Intertwining Mathematics with Social Justice in the Classroom, taking place all day on Saturday, January 7. This session was organized by Catherine Buell, Zeynep Teymuroglu, Joanna Wares, and Carl Yerger, and has talks that can help if you are looking to create your own math and social justice course, or simply include social justice topics in the courses you teach already. If you’re not going to the JMM, here are some websites that can get you started from home: Radical Math, Dave Kung’s Social Justice Page, Daryll Yong’s “Social Justice Equity: STEM and Beyond” Reading List.
What other math-centered activism is out there? How can we get connected with others who want to make change in the world? Let me know in the comments!
P.S. I won’t be posting in January, since I’m using up all of my blogging mojo writing about the Joint Mathematics Meetings, January 4-7 in Atlanta GA. Check out the JMM blog, where I will be writing (with some other amazing bloggers!!) about all things JMM, including some of these activities.
P.P.S. Also, can I just share some more math New Year’s resolutions from Math with Bad Drawings?