WMU News

WMU gets funding to boost number of math doctoral students

July 2, 1998

KALAMAZOO -- Federal funds awarded to Western Michigan University will be used to set up six annual doctoral fellowships to address the serious national shortage of American students earning advanced degrees in mathematics.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $126,110 to WMU's Department of Mathematics and Statistics for the first year of a three-year effort. Over the course of the project, more than $375,000 in federal funds is expected for student support. The federal funds will support five fellowships and the University will provide funds to support one additional fellowship during each of the three years. The award was made through the Department of Education's Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need Program.

According to Dr. Ruth Ann Meyer, WMU professor of mathematics and statistics and director of WMU's GAANN program, six fellowships will be awarded as early as this fall. Each fellowship includes a $15,000 stipend paid directly to the student and an institutional payment of $10,051. The institutional payment will be used to pay each fellow's tuition and fees as well as educational expenses related to the academic program in which the fellow is enrolled.

"The grants are for students of superior ability who have financial need and might not otherwise be able to enroll in the doctoral programs," Meyer says.

One priority of the program, she says, is to attract students who are interested in obtaining doctoral degrees in mathematics education. Doctoral programs in that area usually require that applicants have classroom teaching experience at the K-12 level. The GAANN grants should make graduate study more financially attractive to teachers who would like to come back to school to pursue a graduate degree.

Meyer says the GAANN grants are available to colleges and universities to enhance the nation's capacity for research and teaching in academic areas determined by the U.S. Secretary of Education. Mathematics and mathematics education, subjects for which WMU is nationally known, are among those areas of need.

WMU's Department of Mathematics and Statistics has experienced first-hand the growing shortage of applicants, especially women and minority applicants, when filling faculty vacancies in the fields of mathematics, mathematics education and statistics, Meyer says. During five faculty searches in 1997-98, the department had only one African American applicant. Of 1,153 doctoral degrees awarded in the mathematical sciences last year by U.S. institutions, fewer than 500 were awarded to U.S. citizens. Only 116 of those degrees were awarded to women, only nine to African Americans and just 14 to Hispanics.

"It has been a problem ever since I've been at WMU," Meyer says. "The number of graduate students in the pipeline is decreasing and will continue to do so over the next few years. It is clear we need to increase both the numbers of underrepresented groups and the number of U.S. citizens who receive doctoral degrees in mathematics."

To address those problems and apply for the GAANN funding, WMU put together a team of mathematics specialists headed by Meyer and Dr. John W. Petro, chairperson of WMU's Department of Mathematics and Statistics. They worked with Dr. Shirley Clay Scott, dean of WMU's Graduate College, and her staff to put together a program for GAANN funding as well as University funding to add to the federal support.

An advisory committee of several mathematicians will oversee the fellowship program, screen applicants and arrange teaching and research experiences for those who are awarded fellowships.

Meyer says the goal of the GAANN fellowships at WMU will be to turn out professionals with both outstanding teaching and research capabilities. The fellows will begin an intensive teaching experience early in their fellowship that will be tailored to their skill level. Those who already have significant classroom experience will begin teaching undergraduates immediately. Those with less experience will be paired with mentors and assist in the classroom, carrying out such tasks as conducting recitation sections and grading papers

"An important component of the GAANN grant program will be to get fellows together on a monthly basis to share information about teaching successes and techniques," Meyer says. "We want to make sure they gain the skills they need to become outstanding teachers."

Subsequent years of the doctoral program, which typically runs four to five years, will give the students intensive research experiences.

For more information about the GAANN grants, persons should contact Meyer at (616) 387-4588 or the WMU Graduate College at (616) 387-3570.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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