On Saturday, October 12th the Pacific Math Alliance held their first ever student and faculty conference at California State University, East Bay. The event brought together nearly 200 individuals from the entire Pacific Region, including California, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Among the conference’s several goals, it ultimately aimed to create awareness of the PMA, its mission, and its members therein who are dedicated to the mentoring of students in the Pacific region. After welcoming remarks, It was only fitting to kick-off the conference with an informative and motivational talk about the National Math Alliance given by its former director, Dr. Phli Kutzko. Phil highlighted the stories of exceptionally successful National Alliance Alumni, some of whom were in the audience. For student participants, the real-life examples attested to the opportunities they have to shape their own mathematical journeys and set the stage for a fruitful conference.
After the first plenary talk, students participated in a Graduate School Applications and Fellowship Workshop led by Dr. Colette Patt, Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Mathematical & Physical Sciences Division, at the University of California, Berkeley. This workshop emphasized how participants can highlight their unique experiences as an underrepresented minority or first-generation college student in mathematics. The workshop was followed by a Professional Panel on Academic and Industry Careers. Representatives from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, IBM, Acumen, and Udacity answered questions about industry and government career options for mathematicians.
During the student workshops, faculty engaged in professional development centered around effective mentoring practices for underrepresented students. The first activity was a panel of graduate students and recent PhDs on effective mentoring practices from the perspective of a mentee. Serving on the panel was Theo McKenzie (UC Berkeley graduate student), Anastasia Chavez (UC Davis postdoc), and Roberto Hernandez (CSU Fullerton undergraduate) who spoke about faculty/mentor practices that made a positive impact in their preparation for and experiences in graduate school. Following the panel was a workshop on reprogramming the mindset of faculty who have misconceptions about the struggles of underrepresented students. Dr. Erica N. Walker, Professor of Mathematics Education and Director for Urban and Minority Education, Teachers College, Columbia University ran the workshop. Dr. Walker discussed data that supports the need for a paradigm shift with minority students in mind.
Along with workshops and panels, the conference provided students and faculty with a venue where they can present their work to a welcoming and supportive audience. The conference featured 20 student talks from 14 different campuses including community colleges, 4 year undergraduate serving institutions, and PhD granting institutions. The faculty session featured research talks on socio-cultural issues related to mathematics. Faculty from a range of institutions including community colleges, public 4-year undergraduate serving institutions, and liberal arts colleges came together to give 10 talks during this session.
Students and faculty came together to close the day with the second plenary speaker, Pomona College Professor of Mathematics Dr. Edray Goins. Edray used clocks and parking garages to illustrate the concept of monodromy which lies in the intersection of Number Theory and Algebra.
As participants parted ways, the organizers hoped that they left with newfound connections that will become the foundational network of the Pacific Math Alliance. If you would like more information about the Pacific Math Alliance, please visit pacificmathalliance.org.