NSF INCLUDES: WATCH US (Women Achieving Through Community Hubs) in the United States
Mathematics is the foundation of many STEM fields and success in mathematics is a catalyst for success in other scientific disciplines. Increasing the participation of women and other under-represented groups in the mathematics profession builds human capital that produces a diverse pool of problem solvers in business and industry, research mathematicians, faculty at all levels, and role models for the next generation. Existing support and enrichment programs have targeted women in mathematics at different stages in their undergraduate and graduate education, with different strategies to building community, creating a sense of belonging, and promoting a growth mind set. These strategies challenge some of the most common obstacles to success, including isolation, stereotype threat, not committing to mathematics early enough, and imposter syndrome. Acknowledging the diversity among women in terms of socio-economic background and educational background, this project proposes to examine the effectiveness of these programs through the lens of two primary questions: (1) Which elements of these programs are most critical in the success of women, as a function of their position along these distinct diversity axes?, and (2) which features of these programs are most effective as a function of the stage of the participant's career? These questions are guided by the rationale that a better understanding of, and improved pathways by, which programs recruit and retain undergraduate and graduate women in mathematics has the strong potential to increase the representation of women among mathematics PhDs nationwide.
This project seeks to increase and diversify the number of professional mathematicians in the United States by identifying and proliferating best practices and known mechanisms for increasing the success of women in mathematics graduate programs, particularly women from under-represented groups. The PIs on this proposal, all of whom are leaders of initiatives that have been active for nearly two decades, will work with experts in management, data collection and reporting, and communications to address the following three challenges: (1) develop a common system of measuring the effectiveness of each element in these initiatives; (2) develop a process for effective, collective decision making; and (3) create connections between existing activities and resources. This project is both exploratory research and effectiveness research. The project team first will explore the contextual factors that serve to support or inhibit female pursuit of mathematics doctorates by interviewing a variety of women who were undergraduate mathematics majors in the past, as well as current professional mathematicians. They then will use this information to better understand the most effective features of various current and past initiatives that are trying to increase the participation of women in advanced mathematics. A key stakeholder meeting will develop a process for effective, collective decision-making, to utilize what the project team learns from the interviews. The leadership team will develop a website with discussion board and social media components to highlight best practices and facilitate a virtual community for women interested in mathematics. Finally, a distillation of program elements and their targeted effectiveness will inform the selection of interconnected activities to test on a scalable model. These prototypes will be implemented at several sites chosen to represent a diversity of constituencies and local support infrastructure.
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