Mentoring Female Mathematics Majors for Success
The Increasing Success of Women in Mathematics (ISWiM) program, coordinated by Drs. Feryal Alayont and Lauren Keough, ran from October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2018 to provide mentoring and career awareness opportunities to increase success and retention of first- and second-year female mathematics majors at Grand Valley. The ISWiM program was supported by a mini-grant through the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s “NSF INCLUDES WATCH US” grant, whose overarching goal was to support successful initiatives across the US to increase and diversify the number of professional mathematicians.
Female mathematics majors with at least two years remaining in their undergraduate studies were invited to participate in the program and twenty participants enrolled in the program. Recruited participants were placed in groups of five with each group being assigned a more senior female mathematics major mentor. The program involved a variety of events to help participants develop a sense of belonging in the mathematics department as well as to give them opportunities to learn about graduate school and career opportunities appropriate for a mathematics major. Mentors met with their assigned mentees regularly in small groups to discuss topics such as scheduling classes, graduate school options, how to successfully manage workload of mathematics classes, summer research opportunities, and preparing for job applications. All participants were invited to attend talks by professional female mathematicians and lunch/dinner gatherings where career, graduate school, or research opportunities were discussed. The meals were also a great chance for the participants to learn about the challenges of being a woman in the mathematics world and what other women have done to overcome those challenges.
The grant also provided partial support for costs of select participants attending conferences, where participants found the opportunity to meet professional women in mathematical fields valuable as they were able to learn about the personal challenges of a professional life and also had the opportunity to ask questions in a more private setting. One of the program participants shared: “I thought it was great meeting other female math majors and getting to know them. It was also great getting to know [Drs. Alayont and Keough] and feeling like I can just approach [them] to talk.” The quote exemplifies the importance of support for these students in being successful and more confident in pursuing opportunities. Another participant added, “It was very helpful to meet with my mentor regularly, who told me a lot about job opportunities and gave me helpful scheduling advice. It was also nice to meet professors through these events.”
During the next academic year, Drs. Alayont and Keough will join forces with Meghan VanderMale of Grand Rapids Community College to expand this mentoring program to include female GRCC students interested in mathematical sciences and also to include mathematics enrichment activities. Meghan herself is no stranger to GVSU as she is a 2007 GVSU math alumna. After her graduation, Meghan completed her MS degree in mathematics at Western Washington University in 2009 and has been teaching at GRCC since 2014. The new joint mentoring program will be supported by a TENSOR grant from the Mathematical Association of America. Drs. Alayont and Keough expect similar mentoring programs to continue in the years ahead.