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Association for Women in Mathematics honors UTA students

Christin Milman, with AWM President Ami Radunskaya and AWM Project Director Magnhild Lien

The Association for Women in Mathematics honored The University of Texas at Arlington’s AWM student chapter with its inaugural national award for fundraising and sustainability. AWM is one of the leading organizations in the United States dedicated to promoting equal opportunity for women and girls in math. Senior math major Christin Milman traveled to Chicago to accept the award, bestowed for an innovative funding model developed by the chapter’s approximately 50 members.

“I think it is important for a university like UTA to encourage girls and women to pursue mathematics because universities often provide the impetus for social change,” said Elizabeth Stephenson, a UTA senior and past president of the AWM student chapter. “Historically, females have been discouraged from entering STEM fields, and in the interest of building a strong, innovative scientific community founded on interdisciplinary collaborative learning, it is necessary to provide equal opportunities for all individuals.”

Stephenson came to UTA as a freshman with her eyes set on a career in engineering. She says she “fearfully” took a calculus class, but the class was so well-taught that she found her true passion and changed her major to math. 

The student chapter received the AWM award because of the unique way members raise money and help fellow students. Working with other student groups, the AWM hosts comprehensive review sessions before departmental exams. AWM charges a small fee per student for every review. Undergraduate AWM members lead the sessions. As a result, test takers are well-prepared and session leaders gain confidence and develop critical public speaking skills.

“Our student leaders in the UTA AWM student chapter have taken great ownership of their organization, creating and advancing a positive, supportive environment for women in math,” said Theresa Jorgensen, an associate professor of mathematics at UTA, undergraduate advisor, and faculty sponsor of the AWM student chapter. “I was proud to nominate them and boast of their outstanding achievements.”

Through its focused and sustained efforts to recruit women and traditionally underrepresented minority groups as faculty members and students, the UTA Department of Mathematics is reshaping a frequent misconception that math and other STEM pursuits are male-oriented fields. The department has received multiple accolades for its innovation and excellence. 

“The culture of the math department at UTA is a microcosm of the Maverick culture across the University,” Jorgensen said. “We have a critical mass of women in math, both at the student level as well as at the faculty level. The result is that the females in our department stand out for the mathematics they do, as it should be, not for being a female. This makes recruiting women and setting them up for success a natural part of our department’s ethos. In fact, this positive and supportive environment benefits all of our students, not just the women.”

Jorgensen is a 2010 winner of The University of Texas System’s Regents Outstanding Teaching Award, a prestigious recognition reserved only for educators who exemplify the highest caliber of excellence working with undergraduate students. Two of her mathematics colleagues are also Regents Outstanding Teaching Award recipients: Associate Professor and Distinguished Teaching Professor Barbara Shipman in 2010 and Professor Minerva Cordero in 2009. Cordero was named a 2016 Ford “Legendary Woman” by the Ford Motor Corporation and she is the recipient of a Great Minds in STEM™ “Education Distinction” Award. 

Since 2006, four multi-year grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need, or GAANN, program funded UTA’s efforts to attract women and minorities to graduate programs in math and also support them with financial assistance and mentoring as they earn doctoral degrees. The department received the prestigious Exemplary Program or Achievement by a Mathematics Department Award from the American Mathematical Society in 2013. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Education used the department as an example of one of the most successful GAANN programs in the nation in its published fact sheet for student services. In late July, Associate Professor and Graduate Advisor James Álvarez received the Meritorious Service Award from the Mathematical Association of America.

The success enjoyed by the UTA Department of Mathematics is indicative of substantial campuswide progress along the University’s Strategic Plan 2020 Bold Solutions | Global Impact, which set forth a path for excellence in research, teaching and community engagement in four broad themes. A recent Department of Mathematics project funded by a National Science Foundation grant is supporting early graduate students, especially women and underrepresented minority students, as they conduct research in the themes of Health and the Human Condition and Data-Driven Discovery. They are working to develop new theories around imaging technology that could impact the fields of medicine, national security and space exploration.