Against the Odds: Three African-American Women to Discuss the Road to Math Ph.D.s

AMHERST, Mass. - Three women who made history in 2000 by being the first three African-American women to earn doctoral degrees in mathematics at the University of Maryland will visit the University of Massachusetts campus later this month. The women will discuss the challenges they faced in being both female and African-American in a field that is largely dominated by non-minority males at the highest levels.

Tasha Innis, Sherry Scott Joseph, and Kimberly Weems will speak at 10:30 a.m., Monday, April 29, in room 101 of the Campus Center. The panel discussion is titled "Against the Odds: Three African-American Women Talk about Their Passion for Mathematics and Their Paths to Ph.D. Degrees." The talk is geared for faculty members and graduate students in mathematics, science, and engineering.

The discussion is part of the Northeast Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, a five-year, $5-million project funded by the National Science Foundation and aimed at attracting minorities to doctoral programs in math, science, and engineering. The Northeast Alliance is headed by UMass and includes the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Pennsylvania State, Rutgers, and Boston universities. The collaborative effort is aimed at recruiting, supporting, and mentoring under-represented minority students pursuing careers in science, math, or engineering.

Innis, Joseph, and Weems received their doctorates in 2000. Weems is a postdoctoral researcher at North Carolina State University; Joseph is an assistant professor at Bowie State College in Bowie, Maryland; and Innis is the Clare Booth Luce professor of mathematics at Trinity College in Washington, D.C.

"We are very concerned about the issues of how to attract students to these fields, and once candidates are enrolled in a graduate program, how to provide the support and the role models that increase the likelihood of receiving a degree," said Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Charlena Seymour, a co-principal investigator on the UMass team working on the project. "We are looking forward to hearing from these very accomplished women about what strategies worked for them, and what we can do at UMass to increase diversity and to help young people from all walks of life to successfully prepare for the future." UMass faculty also serving as co-principal investigators are Donald St. Mary, chair of the mathematics and statistics department; Donald Fisher, of mechanical and industrial engineering; and Sandra Peterson and Peter Hepler of biology. Ann Lewis serves as director of the Northeast Alliance.