A conference designed specifically for undergraduate math majors co-founded by Loyola Marymount University Associate Professor Alissa S. Crans was recently recognized by the American Mathematical Society for its “significant efforts to encourage students from underrepresented groups to continue to study mathematics.”
The Mathematics Programs that Make a Difference Award was awarded to the Pacific Coast Undergraduate Mathematics Conference (PCUMC), co-founded by Crans, Kendra Killpatrick of Pepperdine University and Naiomi Cameron of Lewis and Clark College.
“The three of us envisioned a ‘big tent approach,’ for the conference, meaning that all are welcome,” Crans explains. “We wanted to be as inclusive as possible. We wanted to create a nonthreatening environment where all students would have the opportunity to talk to other students about mathematics.”
This approach has influenced the career path of student participants such as LMU alumna Alondra Vega ‘12, who is pursuing her doctorate in epidemiology at UC Davis. “I knew I wanted to study mathematics, but I was not sure what I could do with it,” says Vega, who attended PCUMC for four years as an undergraduate. “Being a Latina woman in mathematics is definitely a unique experience, since the numbers are so small. Luckily attending the PCUMC broke my nerves down and showed me how diverse mathematics is.”
Vega’s conversations with other students at PCUMC introduced her to the field of public health and its many mathematical applications. “I am now pursuing a Ph.D. in Epidemiology. I perform statistical analysis every day, which is what I wanted to do.”
The conference had a similar impact on Cynthia Flores, who describes herself as a “first generation college-attending female student of an underrepresented ethnic minority.”
Flores first attended PCUMC as an undergraduate at CSU Northridge. While pursuing her doctorate at UC Santa Barbara, Flores was a panelist during the conference’s graduate school discussions. In her first year as a mathematics faculty member at California State University, Channel Islands, Flores introduced her students to PCUMC this past March.
“It is electrifying to see that many undergraduates come together, share camaraderie and truly identify with one another,” Flores says. “PCUMC is a channel for finding others with similar struggles and an outlet for information regarding graduate school and careers in mathematics. This is especially important for the success of students in mathematics coming from a minority background.”
“The fact that the American Mathematical Society created this award means they recognize how important it is to promote, encourage and support people belonging to groups that are traditionally underrepresented in mathematics and to help them succeed as they progress through their mathematical careers, whether that means going into the workforce or continuing to study mathematics in pursuit of an advanced degree,” Crans says. She and Killpatrick have organized this annual conference for the past ten years.
Students from universities, colleges and community colleges in the greater Los Angeles area attend the annual event each March. The first conference in 2006 attracted 85 participants. But by 2012, the conference had grown to 650 participants, with more than half of the students belonging to underrepresented groups and about half women. Students universally praise the conference for providing them the opportunity to present their work, and share their mathematical ideas and interests.
The conference location rotates around Southern California and has been held at LMU twice (2008 & 2011). “My LMU mathematics colleagues have been fantastic in their support of my work with this conference,” Crans says.