California State University, Northridge has received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to spearhead a program designed to encourage undergraduate students from underrepresented communities throughout Southern California to pursue advanced degrees in the mathematical sciences.
CSUN math professor Helena Noronha will be working with colleagues at eight CSU campuses in the region to develop a program that will provide comprehensive training and research to undergraduate students. In addition to Northridge, the other CSU campuses participating in the project are Channel Islands, Dominguez Hills, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Polytechnic Pomona.
“By identifying talented and highly motivated students from minority groups, by addressing the critical choices they face and by providing a solid mathematical education to them, this project will make a significant contribution to increasing the quantity, quality and diversity of the mathematical science workforce,” Noronha said.
The program is similar to PUMP: Preparing Undergraduates through Mentoring towards Ph.Ds., which Noronha operated at Cal State Northridge from 2005 to 2010 with a grant she received from the NSF program Workforce in the Mathematical Sciences.
“Our program was a success, and we’re hoping that this new grant will help us spread that success,” she said. “We can share what works here at CSUN and learn from the successes on the other campuses. Each campus has its unique characteristics but, by working together, we can ensure that all our students truly have the skills they need to succeed in getting advanced degrees in the mathematical sciences.”
Noronha said the project is built around the ideas of encouraging and fostering undergraduate research, offering the students advanced coursework and seminars and giving them strong mentoring and other personalized support. Planned activities include summer institutes that complement course offerings and expand the students’ mathematical horizons and at least one year of research projects for junior and senior math majors.
“With these activities and the guidance of the faculty involved in the project, students will grow mathematically and develop their full intellectual potential,” Noronha said. “The project will provide them with a comprehensive education and training program that emphasizes the rigor of mathematical sciences and discovery.
“There are a lot of students out there who like math, enjoy math, but don’t want to pursue a career in academia so they don’t study the mathematical sciences,” she said.
“One of our major goals is to identify and prepare talented and motivated undergraduate students for careers in the mathematical sciences not just in academia, but as researchers for private industry and even with the government. One of the leading employers of people with Ph.Ds. in the mathematical sciences is the National Security Agency.”
Noronha said she believes that increasing the numbers and quality of minority students from the region entering Ph.D. math programs will encourage other students to pursue careers in mathematics or related fields.
“This project could alter the intellectual atmosphere among students at the participating institutions and could have beneficial repercussions beyond the time-frame of the grant itself,” she said.