AMS Award for an Exemplary Program or Achievement in a Mathematics Department

The UNL Department of Mathematics is honored to announce it received the American Mathematical Society's (AMS) 2009 Award for an Exemplary Program or Achievement in a Mathematics Department. This prestigious award recognizes a department that has distinguished itself by undertaking an unusual or particularly effective program of value to the mathematics community, internally or in relation to the rest of society.

The UNL mathematics department is the fourth recipient of the award. The previous recipients were Harvey Mudd College (2006), the University of California, Los Angeles (2007), and the University of Iowa (2008). The department received this honor because it is a national leader in increasing the representation of women in the profession, has improved the mentoring and early career training of students, and has achieved a national leadership position in the mathematical education of teachers, all while concurrently growing its doctoral program in both size and national profile.

"The past two decades have been a period of remarkable achievement by our department and the award is evidence that the department enjoys a national profile as a result of its achievements," said John Meakin, chair of the department. "Perhaps our most significant achievement is the strengthening of our graduate program while becoming a national model for a department where women graduate students are successful."

In the 1980s, the department awarded 23 Ph.D.s, none of which were awarded to women. In the late 1980s, the department made a new commitment to its graduate program and to recruiting women graduate students. When Linda Dobson Fosnaugh earned her Ph.D. in 1991, she became only the sixth woman to earn a Ph.D. from the department. By 1994, when Vesna Kiliabara and Aihua Li earned their doctorates, under Meakin and Sylvia Wiegand, repectively, the profile of the graduate program had changed.

Between 1994 and 2010, the department has awarded 107 Ph.D.s, 46 (43 percent) of which have been awarded to women. The August 2004 Notices of the AMS reported that between 1995 and 2003, 24 percent of Ph.D.s awarded in the U.S. went to women and that the UNL Department of Mathematics ranked first among universities that had awarded more than 60 Ph.D.s during that period.

Currently, the department's tenured/tenure-track faculty includes eight women, and two of four research assistant professors are women. Wiegand, who for many years was the only tenured female faculty member in the department, told the Notices that this focus on encouraging women in fact made the department more helpful to all graduate students, not just women, and therefore, "made it a better place for everybody."

The department's success mentoring women graduate students was first honored in 1998, when it became the first mathematics department in the country to win a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring. The department used the funds from the Presidential Award and other funds from UNL to launch the first Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics in 1999. Now fully supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency, this annual conference attracts more than 200 undergraduates from across the country and has become a national showcase for research by undergraduate women in mathematics (more on Page 5).

Other outreach programs that led to the department's recognition are:

  • All Girls/All Math (AGAM): A nationally recognized educational outreach program that contributes to the effort to encourage high school girls to study mathematics in college. AGAM summer camps have been organized at Nebraska each summer since 1997, with support from the AMS Epsilon program, the NSA and UNL, including support from alumni (Page 7).
  • Nebraska IMMERSE: A summer bridge program for students who have graduated from non-Ph.D. granting colleges and have been accepted into a graduate program in mathematics at a United States university. This program is supported by the Mentoring through Critical Transitions Points (MCTP) grant from the NSF (Page 7).
  • Undergraduate Research: Since 2002, the department has had NSF support for the Nebraska Research Experience for Undergraduates in Applied Mathematics. A second NSF grant, Research for Undergraduates in Theoretical Ecology, the MCTP grant and UNL's UCARE program combine to offer many opportunities for undergraduates.
  • Mathematical education for teachers: Two NSF grants, Math in the Middle and NebraskaMATH, support a campus-wide partnership to enhance the mathematical education of Nebraska math teachers (Page 9).
  • Carnigie Initiative on the Doctorate: The department was one of eight mathematics departments in the country to be invited to participate in this initiative, and it made substantial contributions to the national dialogue about graduate education in the U.S.
  • American Mathematics Competitions (AMC): The AMC is the Mathematical Association of America's series of mathematics competitions given to approximately 400,000 high school and middle school students each year, beginning a process that leads to the eventual selection of the USA International Mathematics Olympiad (IMO) team. The AMC is administered in Lincoln by a faculty member in our department.

To read the AMS award article that appeared in Notices, click here.