In this space one year ago, my predecessor, Richard Phillips (MSU), wrote on the matter of the declining number of undergraduate mathematics majors, and he identified two broad areas of related concern: (1) Is the mathematics we teach the mathematics the outside world wants and needs? (2) Are we doing an adequate job with career counseling?
To address public concerns about mathematics education and to do an adequate job of student recruiting, retention, and career counseling is a major additional workload in our already very full work lives. These questions must be addressed, nevertheless, and require us to reflect upon our purpose and mission as departments of mathematics, and to carefully identify how we can best serve our communities. It is in our own best interest to do so, for if we do not, someone may decide to do it for (or to) us. I direct your attention to the following two items, which are relevant to this discussion of departmental missions and service to the community.
First, the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (for AMS, MAA, and SIAM) has created a Task Force on the Educational Activities of Faculty. The mission of the JPBM Task Force is "to provide the post-secondary mathematical community with resources for enhancing the educational activities of faculty. Its goal is to help institutions and departments reflect on their educational missions, determine the range of educational activities that should 'count' in the promotion and tenure process given their missions, and document educational activities in reliable and meaningful ways." You may have received the announcement of the Task Force through your department MAA liaison (does your department have one?), but if you did not, the full text can be found on the web site http://www.maa.org/pending/january/jpbm%2Deaf%2Dannounce.html . The Task Force, which is being chaired by Alan Schoenfeld at UC-Berkeley (email@example.com), is seeking information and ideas, and will eventually publish its results.
The second item deals with a recently advertised position we may see becoming more and more popular in the future. The University of Tennessee-Knoxville has posted a position for an "Outreach Mathematician (OM)", a trained mathematician who necessarily "will participate in the education program of the department, actively pursue grants to conduct workshops for teachers, carry out systematic school visits, become involved in state-wide mathematics education reform, and work with the appropriate faculty in the College of Education." We have long had people in education who specialize in mathematics; the OM appears to add a new link to the chain, by identifying mathematicians who will specialize in education. May we hope for a network of OMs nationwide?
Matt Wyneken, Chair
The Michigan Section offers the High School Visiting Lecture Program each year as a means for college and university faculty and other math professionals to make connections with area high school students and teachers. Topics of the talks usually range along careers in mathematics, applications of high school topics, and recreational mathematics. Currently, about 50 topics are being offered by 18 people from around the state. So far this year six requests for talks have been received. If you have a presentation appropriate for high school students or would like additional information about the program, please contact me at
Department of Mathematics
Saginaw Valley State University
University Center, MI 48710
Mike Gilbert, HSVLP Director
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who sent in dues! The current balance in the Section account is $8,479.03, which includes $1000 from the Exxon Foundation to sponsor student chapter activities. This puts us very close to the healthy balance from two years ago (which also included an Exxon grant).
The great news is that the increase in dues has helped a lot, and the good news is that the membership numbers are comparable. We now have 194 members; last year at this time we had 202. Lists of sustaining and institutional members are given on pages 6 and 29.
Here, for comparison, are the figures as of March 1 and a similar point last year:
March 1998 March 1997 regular members 123 122 sustaining members 48 54 institutional members 23 26
For your information, this year's individual members include 127 from higher education, 12 from K-12 education, 7 from industry, 19 retired, 2 students, and 4 others (including a contribution from a non-mathematician, just to support the Section). Of the 23 institutions, 10 are private, 10 are state-supported, and 3 are two-year.
If you have not sent in your dues for 1997-98, you can still do so. There is a membership form on page 29. If you can't remember whether you have paid, contact me by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (248-204-3531) or regular mail (address on dues form), and I will be glad to let you know.
Check the list of institutional members. If your school is not there, remind your department chair ($40 for small institutions, $70 for large institutions). A report of the MMPC winners and top 1000 participants is sent to institutional members in the late spring.
One last reminder: The MAA book sale at the Section meeting is a good place to stock up on books to give graduating seniors, prize books for contests, and books for your own library. They will be offered at a discount during the meeting, and the Section gets a rebate from the books sold.
Ruth Favro, Secretary/Treasurer
It was not good news when the latest results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) were recently released. U.S. 12th graders performed in the lowest one-third of the 21 TIMSS countries on mathematics and science general knowledge and on physics and advanced mathematics. In response, Secretary of Education Richard Riley has already outlined steps to turn things around in our middle and high schools.
This is just one part of a continuing dialogue on the status of mathematics education in our schools and colleges. We are being bombarded with a continuous stream of reports and letters on the pros and cons of reform curricula vis-à-vis more traditional curricula. The dialogue continues in the From the Origin section of this Newsletter and elsewhere throughout the world. As I come to the end of my three-year term on the MAA Board of Governors and with almost four decades of experience in higher education, I want to point out that much of this is not new.
Many of us can remember an earlier crisis we had in the late Fifties after the launching of Sputnik. The resulting changes in our educational system brought about more advances in mathematics, science, and technology than we had ever experienced before. Forty years ago it sufficed that an elite few mastered science and mathematics. The situation is much different now that we are in the Information Age. The present crisis is that our current curricula are failing to reach a large segment of our society. Entirely new curricula must be developed to make mathematics and science accessible to all of our children.
This is a continuing process, which is healthy as long as all of us welcome open dialogue and promote objective inquiry. We dare not allow ourselves to degenerate into a polarized ideological debate. Rather, we must put our creative energies together in a unified effort to shape a response for the future which will be every bit as successful as the response to Sputnik was 40 years ago.
John Petro, Governor, Michigan Section-MAA
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