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Changing Student Views Regarding the Usefulness of

Mathematics in Order to Increase the Number of Mathematics Majors



Sunday, January 6, 2002, 2:15-5:35 pm


Sarah Mabrouk, Framingham State University, Organizer


Many students select a major based on future earnings rather than interest/aptitude, choosing not to major in mathematics because they do not view mathematics as useful for life/career. While encouraging students to choose a major that fits their interests/abilities, mathematics departments must be concerned about the number of majors in order to maintain/expand the department. If we demonstrate how studying mathematics is useful in the "real world" or leads to an interesting career then we enable students to pursue their interests in mathematics while maintaining/expanding the department. This session invites papers highlighting efforts of departments to attract mathematics majors. Of interest are activities as lectures, workshops, math clubs, Math Days, Math Fairs, and Career Days designed to help students to view mathematics as useful and to attract majors. Of special interest are the benefits to students, the affect on the number of mathematics majors, and the benefit(s) to the department.


2:15 pm

Creating A Mathematically Rich Environment

Melinda W. Certain, University of Wisconsin


The Wisconsin Emerging Scholars (WES) Calculus Program, now in its ninth year at UW-Madison, is a workshop approach to calculus modeled on the program developed by Uri Treisman at UC-Berkeley.  The Teaching Assistant for a WES section creates worksheet problems and projects which explore many different applications of mathematics.  Also, the use of undergraduate paid Student Assistants allows a teaching opportunity for students whose intended major may not have been mathematics but who become more interested in math as they help teach it.  Field trips and social events provide other opportunities to expand students' views of what math offers.  Examples of these aspects of the program will be given as well as details about how the program works.   Statistics about the success of WES will be cited.


2:35 pm

Recruitment Of Mathematics Majors At A Four-Year,

Comprehensive University

Kevin Charlwood, Washburn University

The number of mathematics majors at campuses nationwide has declined over the past decade.  Faced with declining enrollments, particularly at the upper-division level, departments in the mathematical sciences have had to find ways to make their departments and major programs appeal to mathematically talented students who might not otherwise choose to major in mathematics.  In this presentation, we explore what department members at one four-year, comprehensive, public institution are doing to attempt to attract more majors into its programs in mathematics for secondary teaching, actuarial science, and pure mathematics.


Washburn University (Topeka, Kansas) has about 5,500 undergraduate students and roughly 500 graduate (education, law, psychology, MLS).  In the five years from 1994 - 1999, although total student credit hours (SCH) in our department rose from 7,445 to 7,838 (5.3% increase), we suffered a 30.3% decrease at the upper-division level (down from 3.84% to 2.7% of SCH).  This disturbing trend coincided with a large upswing in the number of majors in computer science and computer information systems (CS/CIS).  Fortunately for us this means that there are enough students on campus with the potential to major in mathematics; the problem for us has become in large measure, how do we attract some of that talent into our programs?


Each November we sponsor a Math Day where we host between 400 and 500 local high school students from about 25 schools out of about 75 schools that we invite.  They take a 90-minute competitive exam, and we give them lunch and campus tours, followed by an awards program.  We make literature about our programs and scholarships available, but not in an overbearing manner.  For those who sign up to receive it, we send follow-up letters directly to students with our department brochure, a scholarship application, and other information they may have requested.  The math teachers from the participating schools are also given some information about our programs that they may copy freely and give to other interested students.


Several of our faculty have been making a concerted effort to get out to visit local schools to give presentations and to pass out information.  A lecture will be on the order of 20 minutes, designed to engage students and provoke thought.  Use of technology (typically graphics calculators) in the lecture is one of our imperatives.  Although we do not possess hard data on how much this has helped our ability to recruit, these efforts do leave a positive impression of our department on the students whom we meet.


Finally, the biggest aid to our recruiting work has come in the form of unrestricted scholarship money, earmarked solely for our department. Despite our low cost per credit hour, prospective students invariably consider "bottom line" as a primary factor in where to attend college. Several high-quality students have taken up study at Washburn in the past three years in part because of our competitive scholarship offers, when combined with other financial aid which they received.


2:55 pm

Retaining Math Majors At King’s College

Denise Reboli, King’s College


At King’s College, we use a variety of programs to introduce our students to the world of mathematics outside the classroom.  We have an active mathematics and computer science club that is involved in a number of activities.  Among other events that they sponsor are various types of tutoring (on and off campus) and a Family/Faculty Dinner.  Many of our students have participated in Career Days and will volunteer at our sectional Career Day this year.  These days have given our students a better understanding and a greater awareness of what they can do with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.  We are also fortunate to be a partner institution for the Preparing Future Faculty program.  As such, we invite graduate students from other institutions to speak to our students each semester.  We believe a number of factors have helped increase the number of mathematics majors, and the above programs have helped maintain and expand their interest in mathematics.


3:15 pm

An Integrated Professional Development Program For

Mathematics Majors

G. Daniel Callon, Franklin College

At Franklin College, a private liberal arts baccalaureate institution, we are in the first year of full implementation of a project designed to meet several goals:  acquaint freshmen with the opportunities available in mathematics-related careers and provide an introduction to the excitement of mathematical discovery and the breadth of modern mathematics; provide a variety of opportunities for students interested in mathematics to participate in mathematically-oriented activities, both curricular and extracurricular; help mathematics majors prepare an individualized four-year plan, including an interdisciplinary component, which incorporates the types of experiences and which develops the types of skills necessary to achieve their professional goals; offer a variety of courses and minors to allow  students from other disciplines, such as the natural and social sciences, to incorporate mathematics into their undergraduate programs; provide seniors with a transition from the undergraduate culture to the culture of the workplace or of graduate school.


While many of the components were already in place, what sets the new program apart is the long-term focus and the emphasis on moving smoothly from the freshman through senior years and on into the postgraduate experience.  New courses were designed and existing courses revised to better accomplish these goals.  Designing and implementing the program involved buy-in and cooperation from several other academic and administrative departments, which has increased the visibility and influence of mathematics campus-wide.  In this paper I will give details of our program and further explanation of the goals.  I will also provide information on the reaction encountered thus far from various constituencies, including current and potential students and other faculty and staff.


3:35 pm

Building A Mathematical Community To Strengthen An

Undergraduate Mathematics Program

Julian F. Fleron, Westfield State College

Philip K. Hotchkiss, Westfield State College

Over the past several years our department has made a concerted effort to strengthen our major program by building a mathematical community with our undergraduate students as its central focus. The development of a Math Club, student participation in conferences, lecture series, a common area, internships and the expanded career resources, mathematics bulletin boards and hallway blackboards, undergraduate research projects, tutoring and assistantships, and community mathematics events have had a remarkable impact on our program. It has strengthened our majors' preparation, it has greatly expanded their career aspirations, has accounted for significant growth in the number of majors and minors, has invigorated our department, and has provided remarkable public relations benefits. Mathematicians foster communities at all levels, each contributed to our mathematical growth and lives in significant ways. Just as these communities are so important to us and our mathematical development, it is important that our students also become part of mathematical communities that can nurture their mathematical development. The activities and efforts described in this talk have allowed us to build a vibrant mathematical community for undergraduates on our campus.


3:55 pm

Inspiring Mathematics Majors Through Personal Experience

David Streid, Maharishi University of Management

At Maharishi University of Management we do a number of things to change studentąs views regarding mathematics and to encourage them to choose the mathematics major.  Our first approach is to give the students the experience of seeing and doing interesting mathematics in their first year on campus. We offer three introductory courses to first year students that give them a taste of not only the practical applications of mathematics, but also the elegance and beauty of mathematics that students usually only realize once they have taken upper division courses.


In "Numbers and Codes" students are introduced to modular arithmetic and its applications in error correcting codes, information theory, and cryptography.  In "Symmetry in Science and Art" students learn about symmetry transformations and how they can be used to classify the basic symmetry types. In each of these courses, students do a project that allows them to explore in more depth the mathematics behind these concepts to the extent of their interests and abilities.


The third course offered in the first year is called "Infinity". In this course students are exposed to some of the deepest and most profound ideas at the heart of modern mathematics, such as the notion of cardinality, the infinite hierarchy of infinite cardinals, the paradoxes and practical applications of infinity, and the role of infinity in the development of many branches of modern mathematics, such as projective and non-Euclidean geometries, calculus, logic, and set theory. This course helps recruit those students (who still exist) that are attracted to the beauty and elegance of abstract ideas made precise. They begin to see not only the usefulness of mathematics in the Śreal worldą, but also its contribution to the development of their Śinner worldą‹mathematics can be sublime and blissful.


Another way that we attract majors is to make it easy for our computer science and electrical engineering majors to do a double major in mathematics. Since many students who are mathematically inclined but want to have financially lucrative careers enter these majors, our strategy is if you canąt beat them, have them join us. Students in these majors automatically get a mathematics minor, so we use the contact we have with these students to inspire them both in our courses and on a personal level to take more mathematics courses. We explain to them the advantage a mathematics major will give them in their careers, whether they plan on going to graduate school or directly into business and industry.


In fact, our most successful recruitment strategy is to personally engage potential students about the joy and benefits of a mathematics major. We make them feel that this is a lively, nurturing, and fun department in which to spend their next two or three years, and that they will be amply rewarded for their hard work and time well spent.


4:15 pm

Rush Hour and Dijkstra's Algorithm

Mark Stamp, MediaSnap, Inc.

Text Box: Canceled


Each year, the Center for Mathematics Science and Technology (CMST) conducts a two-week summer camp for High School students. The camp is held at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore and is funded by the National Security Agency (NSA). The author has taught a class at the CMST that attempted to give students a taste of applied research. In this class, the students would select from a set of problems, do original research on their selected problem (usually involving computer experiments), write a report to document their findings and present their results to the entire camp. In this talk, we will discuss the CMST in general and one particularly successful project in some detail.

4:35 pm

Celebrating Mathematics At South Dakota State University

Donna L. Flint, South Dakota State University


During the academic year the Mathematics and Statistics Department of South Dakota State University celebrates two events; one in the fall and one in the spring. In the fall, the department sponsors "Math Week: Math Keeps Popping Up". The event is a University-wide, week-long event intended to help students see mathematics all around them. The main event is a mathematics scavenger hunt. In the spring, the department celebrates "Pi Day", a silly, yet fun one-day event. This talk will discuss organization and highlights of the events, as well as student and faculty reactions.


4:55 pm

Panel Discussion – Creating and Maintaining Programs To

Change Student Views Of Mathematics

Sarah L. Mabrouk, Framingham State University, moderator


Join G. Daniel Callon, Franklin College, Melinda W. Certain, University of Wisconsin, Kevin Charlwood, Washburn University, Julian F. Fleron, Westfield State College, Donna L. Flint, South Dakota State University, Philip K. Hotchkiss, Westfield State College, Denise Reboli, King’s College, Mark Stamp, MediaSnap, Inc., and David Streid, Maharishi University of Management, as they share their experiences in creating and in maintaining programs designed to change student views of Mathematics in a mini panel discussion.  They will discuss their efforts to change student views of mathematics, the affects of the programs that they discussed during this session on the number of mathematics majors at their college/university, and the benefit(s) of these programs to their mathematics departments.

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