History of the Alliance

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Brief History of the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences

The National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences, now best known as the Math Alliance was founded in 2001 as a partnership between the math sciences departments at the three Iowa State Regents universities (University of Iowa, Iowa State University and University of Northern Iowa) together with math departments at four Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) (Alabama A&M University, Benedict College (South Carolina), Florida A&M University and Jackson State University). Its original name – the Alliance for the Production of African American Ph.D.s in the Mathematical Sciences — reflected the shared concern of the partners that African Americans were significantly underrepresented at all levels in these fields. Support for the Alliance was applied for and received from the National Science Foundation Division of Mathematical Sciences (NSF/DMS) in 2002. A second grant to support the Alliance was awarded by the NSF/DMS EMSW21-MCTP program in 2005.

From the beginning, the Alliance was organized as a community of mentors and students. The students, who were undergraduates at the four HBCU Alliance partners, were called Alliance Scholars. They each received a stipend and they were invited to the Alliance Summer Research Experience held jointly at the three Iowa Regents universities. Each student had an undergraduate mentor at his or her home institution as well as a graduate mentor at one of the Iowa schools.

The Alliance was one of several initiatives developed by the Department of Mathematics at the University of Iowa as part of its program to increase the representation of US citizens from minority backgrounds in the mathematical sciences. At around the same time, the department formed a tie with the Mathematical and Theoretical Biology Institute/Institute for Strengthening the Understanding of Mathematics and Sciences (MTBI/SUMS) program and its director, Carlos Castillo-Chavez, which resulted in more than 15 students, almost all of them Latino, enrolling in the department’s doctoral program (eleven of these students, nine of whom are Latino, went on to obtain their doctoral degree at the University of Iowa). These ties, successful in themselves as vehicles for increasing the number of minority doctoral students in the math sciences at the University of Iowa and the other Iowa Regents universities, also led to ties with other math sciences faculty at minority serving colleges and universities, among them, Joe Omojola at Southern University New Orleans and Bill Jones at Xavier University (New Orleans). When Hurricane Katrina devastated the colleges and universities in New Orleans, the University of Iowa was well placed to act on behalf of the dislocated students.

Building Community- The National AllianceTies between departmental faculty at the three Iowa Regents universities and math sciences faculty at institutions that serve a substantial proportion of underrepresented students grew rapidly and it became clear that the Alliance was outgrowing its original structure. More and more students from backgrounds underrepresented in the math sciences nationally were expressing interest in attending graduate school and the Alliance mentors were beginning to build a community with like-minded faculty nationally. In recognition of this evolution, Alliance leadership requested, in 2006, that NSF allow them to change the structure of the Alliance; the name of the Alliance was also changed to the National Alliance for Doctoral Studies in the Mathematical Sciences to reflect its broadened mission. At the heart of these changes was an expansion of the group of undergraduate mentors to include math sciences faculty at a wide variety of colleges and universities that serve a substantial percentage of students who are underrepresented in these fields. These mentors nominate Alliance Scholars who are then eligible for various Alliance programs, including the annual Field of Dreams Conference.

The Alliance Doctoral Program: During its early years, the Alliance concentrated on the transition point from undergraduate school to masters and doctoral programs. As the number of students who were ready for the transition to graduate programs grew, the Alliance began to work with math sciences graduate faculty nationally to build Alliance Graduate Program Groups (GPG’s): groups of faculty at math sciences graduate programs that have committed themselves to the best practices and community building which has been the hallmark of the Alliance. A total of 45 math sciences graduate programs nationally have formed Graduate Program Groups – 35 at the doctoral level and 10 at the Master’s level;  it is anticipated that the number will rise significantly over the next few years.

The Alliance Statistics InitiativeThe original Alliance included both mathematical statistics and applied statistics programs at the Iowa Regents universities. In order to ensure that these areas would continue to play a central role in Alliance activities and programs, the Alliance, in 2008, developed a statistics initiative under the direction of Kathryn Chaloner, at the time Professor and Chair of the Department of Biostatistics at the University of Iowa.  With Dr. Chaloner’s untimely death in 2014, leadership for the Statistics Initiative was assumed by Leslie McClure, Professor and Chair of Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Drexel University.

“Think globally, act locally:” Regional Alliances:  In 2010, the Alliance began to foster the creation of regional alliances. Regional alliances are communities of faculty in a given region devoted to identifying students from underrepresented groups with the talent and potential to earn a doctoral degree in a mathematical science and then, in partnership with the Math Alliance, providing the encouragement and mentoring to ensure that these students achieve their goals.  Regional alliances are presently active in Southern California and the Gulf States.   A regional alliance in the greater New York City metropolitan area was launched in May, 2017.  New regional alliances are on the drawing board for  Missouri, including the St. Louis regional area and Indiana, including the Chicago regional area.  In 2016, the Alliance and the Mathematical Association of America agreed to partner in the formation of future regional alliances.

Ramping Up: NSF renewed its support of the Math Alliance in September, 2012, this time in the form of a grant from the DMS-Infrastructure program.  This grant provided the Alliance with generous staff support and with funding for the Field of Dreams conference but it was understood by all involved that the Math Alliance would need to become self-sustaining by the end of the funding period, a goal that the Alliance welcomed.  This goal has been achieved: as of April, 2017 the College of Science at Purdue University will provide an administrative home for the Math Alliance: The Center for the National Math Alliance.  (Please go here for details about the move to Purdue.)