WMU News

National math scholars visit WMU

Sept. 9, 1997

KALAMAZOO -- Two leading national scholars in mathematics and science will visit Western Michigan University this month as part of a larger effort to improve the success rate of underrepresented minority students in those disciplines.

Dr. A.A. Shabazz, chairperson of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, will conduct a series of workshops with faculty, tutors, academic coaches and minority mathematics students Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 11-13.

Shabazz, whose career spans 40 years at institutions such as Clark Atlanta University and Tuskegee Institute, is widely known for his success in training mathematics and science students who go on to attain doctorates. He emphasizes building student self-esteem and reducing the mystique surrounding mathematics and science. He also shows minority students their cultural connection to these fields, while at the same time dispelling myths that only a few students can reach high levels of excellence in these disciplines.

The second speaker will be Dr. James A. Epperson, postdoctoral fellow at the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin, who will visit campus Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 22 and 23.

Epperson will lead workshops and lectures with mathematics faculty, teaching assistants and academic support coaches that will feature the Uri Treisman mathematics model. Named after its creator and Epperson's colleague, Dr. Philip Uri Treisman, the national mathematics model boasts an 80 percent success rate.

The Treisman model challenges minority students to excel, rather than just pass, mathematics. It emphasizes small group teaching methods, faculty sponsorship and collaborative learning efforts, such as teaming up proficient mathematics students with those who are struggling.

The speakers represent the second phase of an initiative called the Select Student Support Services Scholar Program that began one year ago within the Division of Minority Affairs.

Funded by the Office of Equity in the Michigan Department of Education, the effort is aimed at increasing the success rate of minorities in science and mathematics classes at the University, with the hope that they will pursue professions in engineering and other mathematics/science disciplines.

Working cooperatively with the Center for Academic Support Services, the division established academic coaches to aid underrepresented minority students within remedial mathematics programs at the University. The coaches helped students develop successful learning strategies, accompanied them to tutoring sessions and provided general support to the students. This year, organizers hope to take the program to the next level by bringing in high-caliber national mathematics/science educators to conduct training workshops on cutting-edge teaching techniques, while still providing coaches and instructional support.

"I figure if we can come from the ethnic relationship of Shabazz's theory and we use the instructional relationships that Treisman put together, there's not too much that we can do wrong in terms of increasing the number of students we would like to see in mathematics and science curriculums," says Dr. Martha B. Warfield, director of the Division of Minority Affairs.

"WMU is moving toward becoming a research university and research is frequently conducted in the mathematics, science and engineering areas," Warfield explains. "We want WMU to be recognized as an institution where underrepresented minority students can also feel that there are opportunities for them in those same areas."

The Shabazz visit is sponsored by the King/Chavez/Parks Visiting Scholars Program, the Division of Minority Affairs and the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. Epperson's visit is made possible through funds from the Select Student Support Services Scholar Program.

For more information, persons may call Cynthia Natoli-Kantz or Narda McClendon at 616 387-4765 or Warfield at 616 387-4429.

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