The Mathematics Department at the University of Texas at Arlington is the 2013 recipient of the AMS Award for an Exemplary Program or Achievement in a Mathematics Department, the American Mathematical Society announced today. The UT Arlington department is honored for making "a concerted and highly successful effort over the last decade to build a doctoral program whose composition reflects the demographics of our increasingly diverse nation."
Phil Kutzko of the University of Iowa, who served as chair of the award selection committee, said: "The committee was very impressed with the math department at UT Arlington. Departmental faculty are truly dedicated to training a culturally and ethnically diverse group of students with the potential to thrive in our profession, and they have had great success. This commitment on the part of a significant percentage of the faculty is what sets departments like the one at UT Arlington apart from other departments with similar goals."
UT Arlington is an up-and-coming institution that is pursuing plans to move up to "Tier 1" status by increasing its production of doctorates and expanding its research expenditures. By demonstrating the crucial role of mathematics in the university's educational and research missions, the Mathematics Department has become a major player in UT Arlington's ambitious plans.
Over the past several years, the UT Arlington Mathematics Department has transformed itself by putting as its top priority the growth and development of its graduate program. That emphasis led naturally to expansion and improvement in other things the department does, such as serving undergraduate students, providing mentoring, and reaching out to community schools. To support these activities, the department took a strategic and highly successful approach to securing outside funding. Today each mathematics faculty member has opportunities to contribute in ways that suit his or her individual interests and talents. The result is a department with a positive, can-do environment where contributions to research, teaching, and service are all valued and recognized.
In 2005, the UT Arlington mathematics department had 23 PhD students, including 5 women and 1 from an underrepresented minority group. By 2010, the number of PhD students had grown to 52, the number of women to 20, and the number from underrepresented minorities to 8. Doctorate production also climbed substantially, from 2-3 per year in the years preceding 2005, to an average of 6 per year today. Of the 26 who received doctorates between 2005 and 2010, 7 were from underrepresented minorities and 8 were women.
These numbers point to the key to the success of the UT Arlington mathematics department: its emphasis on students. The department has successfully pursued substantial grants from the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation (NSF) that support student scholarships at the graduate and undergraduate levels. In addition to increasing student motivation and morale, the grants have prompted the department to expand its recruiting efforts to attract more and better students. Working with the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences, the UT Arlington Mathematics Department has become a regional leader in expanding the participation of women and underrepresented minorities. The department is now helping to launch a Gulf States Alliance that will work with the National Alliance to maximize opportunities for students who live in states around the Gulf of Mexico.
UT Arlington is a large state university, but the Mathematics Department has managed to create a warm, close-knit atmosphere more akin to that of a small college. Mentoring sessions help students feel welcome and supported, fostering a bond between students and faculty and ensuring that setbacks are addressed early. Interspersing faculty and graduate student offices has led many to leave their office doors open, thereby boosting informal interactions. With a large office where students can hang out and plan activities, the undergraduate student association has a real home in the department.
The department's efforts have greatly increased the attractiveness of the mathematics major: The number of majors has jumped from about 100 in 2005 to about 300 today. With good job opportunities open to math majors in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the department hopes to continue to increase the number of majors.
Because undergraduates are included in many graduate student activities in the department, the graduate students serve as mentors for math majors. They also serve as mentors for schoolchildren, through an innovative program that has received support from the NSF's GK-12 program. In the program, graduate students, faculty, and schoolteachers collaborate to develop ways to increase school students' interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Set with the tall order of finding ways to explain their own research, the graduate students gain valuable experience in communicating about mathematics. The GK-12 work also deepens bonds between the graduate students and faculty. In these ways, graduate students have become major contributors to the success of the UT Arlington Mathematics Department.
The department reaches out to the larger community in other ways as well, most notably through the UT Arlington Mathematics Teacher Preparation Academy, which has received substantial funding from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The department also excels at lower-cost efforts: It has an active "math circle", which aims to stimulate young people's interest in mathematics through creative, informal encounters with the subject; and it hosts an annual "Calculus Bowl" for high school students. Another yearly activity is a "Math Camp" that brings about 300 underprivileged 8th-graders to the UT Arlington campus for a half-day of engaging mathematical activities.
In fact, the department is so good at everything it does, it is often used as a test bed for innovative programs on the UT Arlington campus.
Without elite status or huge resources from the university, the UT Arlington Mathematics Department has capitalized on the strengths and initiative of its faculty to transform itself into an outstanding model of what a department can achieve. The AMS hopes that, by highlighting and celebrating these successes, the UT Arlington Mathematics Department will serve as an inspiration and exemplar for other departments across the nation.
Presented annually by the American Mathematical Society, the Award for an Exemplary Program or Achievement in a Mathematics Department recognizes a college or university mathematics department that has distinguished itself by undertaking an unusual or particularly effective program of value to the mathematics community, internally or in relation to the rest of society. Since it was first given in 2006, the award has highlighted outstanding mathematics departments in a wide variety of institutions around the country.
The official announcement of the award to the UT Arlington Mathematics Department, including the selection committee's citation, is available from the AMS Public Awareness Office and appears in the May 2013 issue of the NOTICES OF THE AMS. That issue is available on the NOTICES web site http://www.ams.org/notices; no subscription is necessary.
Find out more about this and other AMS awards at http://www.ams.org/profession/prizes-awards/ams-awards/department-award.
Founded in 1888 to further mathematical research and scholarship, today the more than 30,000 member American Mathematical Society fulfills its mission through programs and services that promote mathematical research and its uses, strengthen mathematical education, and foster awareness and appreciation of mathematics and its connections to other disciplines and to everyday life.
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