It seems that when I am thinking about my Governor's report for the December Newsletter, I am led to make unexpected connections to popular culture. Last year at this time in my first Governor's report, it was to The Wizard of Oz ("Pay no attention to the little man behind the curtain"). This year it is to the Indianapolis 500, and the relevant quote is, "Gentlemen, start your engines." Except we will paraphrase it: "Colleagues, start your SIGMAAs."
What triggers this bit of whimsy is the decision by the MAA Board of Governors at our meeting in Providence at the end of July to approve a proposal for a trial period for Special Interest Groups within the MAA. (The insight that one can concatenate the common abbreviation for Special Interest Group with the initials of our organization and get a pronounceable combination fraught with mathematical meaning is attributed to Stephan Carlson of our neighboring Indiana Section. Get it? The Indianapolis 500? It all fits together. Or should I say, it all adds up?)
The SIGMAA proposal came from a Task Force on Special Interest Groups chaired by Ed Dubinsky (Georgia State U). They proposed that the MAA establish a program of Special Interest Groups beginning in 2000 for a trial period of five years. Following the Board of Governors' approval of their plan, the Task Force said they would work with existing coalitions of common interest and expected to have several SIGMAAs formed this January at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Washington.
The guidelines that were approved call for the SIGMAAs to have a "critical mass" membership, have a Web site, have a newsletter (probably electronic), and have a governance structure voted on by members. To be a member of a SIGMAA, one must be an MAA member and pay a modest dues supplement, which will support the SIGMAA's activities.
The Task Force pointed out that there are already some informal special interest coalitions functioning within the MAA, including people with an interest in research in undergraduate mathematics education, the Project NExT-ers, and the folks who have organized the humanistic mathematics sessions at recent meetings. A system of special interest groups will formalize some of these activities and give them some financing and more visibility.
The SIGMAAs will also create new opportunities for initiative and leadership within the MAA. In fact, the system will take off and fly only if individuals members step forward and get groups organized that reflect their interests. If you have a strong interest in some particular subject, you might be the sparkplug to organize a SIGMAA. Give it some thought, or as I said earlier, "Colleagues, start your SIGMAAs."
Another matter presented to the Board of Governors was the idea of a general interest magazine. This proposal came from Don Albers, the MAA Associate Director in charge of publications and electronic services. We were given a sample of what such a magazine might look like, with a working title, Mathematical World. The magazine would contain articles on contemporary mathematics, mathematical personalities, a problem or two, and MAA news. Its target audience might be the mathematical equivalent of the audience for Scientific American. I find the idea interesting, but will want to see more information about its financial viability. I'd welcome comments from Michigan Section members on this idea.
John O. Kiltinen, Governor, Michigan Section-MAA
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