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UMass Amherst Offering 30 Three-year Scholarships to Boost Diversity in Math, Statistics

AMHERST — UMass Amherst’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics is offering 30 three-year scholarships to a diverse cohort of students majoring in mathematics and statistics, thanks to a $1.5 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The six-year project, called Enhancing Underrepresented Participation in Mathematics & Statistics: Mentoring from Junior to Master’s, will welcome its first cohort this fall, and will support each student for their junior and senior years, as well as through a one-year master’s program. The program will accept applications for the 2023 cohort until April 1.

“I am deeply invested in trying to increase diversity in the fields of math and statistics. The big question is how,” said Maryclare Griffin, assistant professor of Mathematics and Statistics.

She points to national statistics — in 2020, for instance, only 30 out of 2,031 PhDs granted to U.S. citizens and permanent residents went to black scholars, according to the NSF — to underscore how persistent the lack of diversity in her field is. “I decided to focus in at home, to look at what might be contributing to a lack of student engagement, enrollment, and success.”

Griffin discovered that one of the biggest barriers is financial, as “students of color borrow more, at higher rates. If you look at who gets math and stats degrees, they tend to be people who don’t have to borrow as much.”

To begin to address this problem, Griffin has teamed up with four co-investigators at UMass Amherst: Adena Calden, senior lecturer of Mathematics and Statistics; Nathaniel Whitaker, interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences; Farshid Hajir, senior vice provost and dean of Undergraduate Education; and Inanc Baykur, professor of Mathematics and Statistics. Together, and in collaboration with many other professors in the department of Mathematics and Statistics, they designed a program that will award scholarships of $10,000 per year to academically qualified students who can demonstrate financial need.

To introduce the students to cutting-edge research in the field, each will also receive $4,000 per summer for two summers of additional research. Finally, the team will bring in experts from the Center for Minorities in the Mathematical Sciences to train UMass faculty in how to best support the success of historically underrepresented student populations.

Students will apply for the scholarship in their sophomore year and will be supported through their final two years of undergraduate study as well as through their pursuit of a master’s degree in math. “What we’re expecting is that students will hear about this early — even in high school,” Griffin said, adding that her colleagues are working to recruit students from UMass as well as from area community colleges.

Since the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment in math-related fields to grow by 27% by 2029, Griffin’s project blazes a path for diversifying not only the student body, but the wider profession as well.

“The Department of Mathematics and Statistics is striving to create an abundant, supportive, and diverse community,” Whitaker said. “I’m delighted to bring this opportunity to UMass students. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are important priorities for me; we must ensure that students feel like they belong and clear the barriers to success wherever possible. The S-STEM program is a critical step in making the mathematics and statistics field more accessible and diverse.”

For more information as well as a link to the 2023 application, visit people.math.umass.edu/~sstem.