Francis Edward Su of Harvey Mudd College, who served as chair of the award selection committee, said, "The Williams College math program is recognized for excelling in two cornerstone areas: teaching and undergraduate research. As a result, they have had enormous success in attracting all majors to take math and statistics courses, in publishing texts that have had influence beyond Williams, and in providing math students with exciting experiences of discovery through their long-running REU." (Research Experiences for Undergraduates.)
The Department of Mathematics and Statistics at Williams College has distinguished itself in many ways. First and foremost, it delivers outstanding teaching---so outstanding in fact, although there is no math or statistics requirement at Williams, 84 percent of students in recent graduating classes have completed a course in mathematics or statistics. These courses are so effective that the Williams math major is booming: About 1 of every 8 Williams students major in mathematics (67 majors, a significant increase since 6 in 1985). Many of the faculty have received awards for outstanding teaching.
The department is also very serious about research. Since 2000, department faculty have been awarded a total of 12 National Science Foundation research grants and have published on average a total of 19 journal articles per year. The Williams mathematicians and statisticians are in demand as speakers outside the college, delivering each year nearly 200 talks at conferences and other institutions.
Research in the department is closely tied to interactions with students, and the synergy the two create reaches its pinnacle with SMALL, the department's REU program. Now more than 25 years old, SMALL is one of the best known and most successful REUs in the nation. It runs for nine weeks over the summer and brings in about 30 students, some of them from Williams, some from other schools around the nation, and even some from abroad. Many of the SMALL students produce research that has been published in professional journals. In recent years, SMALL has made concerted and successful efforts to bring in more students from minorities underrepresented in the mathematical sciences.
The department also works to enhance participation of underrepresented groups through its Summer Science Program for freshman. SSP is not a remedial program; the SSP participants are talented, high-achieving individuals. But some of them come to Williams with the idea that they have to "go it alone." The main goal of SSP is to help them develop an academic community they can rely on as they progress through college. This community spirit actually ends up benefiting the non-SSP students, as the SSP students often serve as effective peer role models. The majority of SSP participants opt for science-related majors, and a large number enroll in a mathematics course. Some have gone on to complete the mathematics major.
On top of all this, the department also offers a wide range of activities that help build a community centered on mathematics. Among these are weekly problem-solving dinners, monthly dinners for students and faculty, and an Ice Cream Social in which new students get informal course advising from older students. Students also have the opportunity to attend conferences, including the Joint Mathematics Meetings and the Hudson River Undergraduate Mathematics Conference, of which the Williams department is one of the founders.
The Williams College Department of Mathematics and Statistics does so many things so well that it has become a true leader within the mathematical sciences community and an inspiration for 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 Williams College, including the selection committee's citation, is available from the AMS Public Awareness Office and will appear in the May 2014 issue of the Notices of the AMS. On April 10th, that issue will be 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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