Changing the Equation

By Leah Aulisio-Sharpe ’22, October 3, 2020
Professors receive grant from the National Science Foundation to increase diversity in the mathematics field.

In the spring of 2019, a trio of Ithaca College mathematics professors — professor David Brown, associate professor Ted Galanthay and assistant professor Daniel Visscher — came together with an idea to increase diversity in the mathematics field.

Their solution? Create a research opportunity in dynamical systems for undergraduate students from traditionally underrepresented communities.

The professors have received a four-year, $288,000 grant from National Science Foundation (NSF) for their Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) initiative, which will support a total of 27 rising juniors and seniors over the next three summers.

“I’m so happy that we’ll be able to offer this program to students who might not otherwise have such an opportunity to get paid to work on some really interesting research questions.”

Associate professor Ted Galanthay

The group will implement an outreach and recruitment plan that targets community colleges, historically black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and primarily undergraduate institutions that provide students with limited access to research opportunities. Students from groups traditionally underrepresented in mathematical sciences — including women, minorities, first-generation, and economically disadvantaged students — will be sought out and encouraged to apply.

Ithaca College students will also be eligible to participate in the program. One of the goals of the college’s strategic plan, Ithaca Forever, is to become a national model for colleges committed to the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“I’m so happy that we’ll be able to offer this program to students who might not otherwise have such an opportunity to get paid to work on some really interesting research questions,” Galanthay said.

Students in the program will work in small groups and be tasked with completing a total of three research projects each summer. The goal is to help the students improve their skills in mathematical computation, visualization, thought, communication, as well as goal setting and teamwork.

The professors will act as mentors for the program, and are excited to offer a unique opportunity to students.

From the point of view of a student participant, this is an immersive mathematical experience that can’t be matched during a semester—both the width and depth of a project that students spend eight hours a day for eight weeks in groups is pretty spectacular for an undergraduate student,” Visscher said. “Many such programs have track records of significantly influencing students’ career choices.”

The professors also believe the grant will provide an impact for their students to expand their mathematical circles.

“We hope that this will provide an opportunity for the IC math community, professors and students, to create connections in the larger math community,” said Visscher.