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Department of Mathematics and Statistics Providing Scholarships to Boost Diversity

Federal grant will provide $10,000 per year to help lower educational barriers for underrepresented college students; application window open until April 1

March 17, 2023

University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics is offering 30 three-year scholarships to a diverse cohort of students majoring in mathematics and statistics, thanks to a $1.5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The six-year project, called Enhancing Underrepresented Participation in Mathematics & Statistics: Mentoring from Junior to Master’s, will welcome its first cohort in the Fall of 2023, and will support each student for their junior and senior years, as well as through a one-year master’s program. The program will accept applications for the 2023 cohort until April 1.

“I am deeply invested in trying to increase diversity in the fields of math and statistics,” says Maryclare Griffin, an assistant professor of mathematics and statistics. “The big question is how.” Griffin points to national statistics—in 2020, for instance, only 30 out of 2,031 Ph.Ds granted to U.S. citizens and permanent residents went to black scholars, according to the NSF—to underscore how persistent the lack of diversity in her field is. “I decided to focus in at home, to look at what might be contributing to a lack of student engagement, enrollment and success.” Griffin discovered that one of the biggest barriers is financial: “students of color borrow more, at higher rates,” she says. “If you look at who gets math and stats degrees, they tend to be people who don’t have to borrow as much.”

To begin to address this problem, Griffin has teamed up with four co-investigators at UMass Amherst: Adena Calden, senior lecturer of mathematics and statistics; Nathaniel Whitaker, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences; Farshid Hajir, senior vice provost and dean of undergraduate education and Inanc Baykur, professor of mathematics and statistics. Together, and in collaboration with many other professors in the department of mathematics and statistics, they designed a program that will award scholarships of $10,000 per year to academically qualified students who can demonstrate financial need.

To introduce the students to cutting-edge research in the field, each will also receive $4,000 per summer for two summers of additional research. Finally, the team will bring in experts from the Center for Minorities in the Mathematical Sciences to train UMass faculty in how best to support the success of historically underrepresented student populations.

Students will apply for the scholarship in their sophomore year and will be supported through their final two years of undergraduate study as well as through their pursuit of a master’s degree in math. “What we’re expecting,” says Griffin, “is that students will hear about this early—even in high school.” Griffin and her colleagues are working to recruit students from UMass as well as from area community colleges. Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment in math-related fields to grow by 27% by 2029, Griffin’s project blazes a path not only for diversifying the student body, but the wider profession as well.

“The Department of Mathematics and Statistics is striving to create an abundant, supportive and diverse community,” Whitaker says. “I’m delighted to bring this opportunity to UMass students. Diversity, equity and inclusion are important priorities for me; we must ensure that students feel like they belong and clear the barriers to success wherever possible. The S-STEM program is a critical step in making the mathematics and statistics field more accessible and diverse.”

For more information as well as a link to the 2023 application, visit the S-STEM Scholars Program in Mathematics and Statistics at UMass Amherst website.

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