Math professor gains grant to help mathematicians of color


Michael Young, math professor at Iowa State finds himself in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania deeply involved in his Debt-M program when he is not in class pursuing his goal of helping others succeed in comprehending mathematics.

Brian Mackley

Helping students of color reach their full potential in mathematics is both a professional and personal goal for Michael Young.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded Michael Young, assistant professor of mathematics, a $300,000 grant to run a pilot program for the potential Mathematician Affiliates of Color Network. The network will be made up of mathematicians of color from a variety of universities across the United States.

According to the U.S. Department Education, in 2011 only 6 percent of the STEM workforce was made up of African Americans. The Mathematician Affiliates of Color Network will hopefully help increase that percentage.

“The bigger part of this is to help increase the diversity in the sciences,” Young said.

The goal of the Mathematician Affiliates of Color Network is to incorporate more students of color into the field of math. The network will be pairing up mathematicians of color with teachers from their local school districts teaching from grades K-12. These mathematicians and teachers will be working together to help better understand and eliminate the constraints put on students of color when it comes to the subject of math.

The mathematicians and teachers involved in the program will share experiences and ideas about what it’s like both teaching students of color as well as being a student of color. The mathematicians will be used more as a guide than a curriculum administrator.

“This is less academic and more mentoring,” Young said.

Being a mathematician of color himself, Young understands the pressures and struggles students of color face when it comes to math and science. After getting his Ph.D. in mathematical sciences from Carnegie Mellon University and being involved with the Designing for Equality by Thinking in and about Mathematics program, Young hopes his expertise will help contribute to the pilot’s success.

“I used to be one of these students,” Young said.

With the grant just getting off the ground, the Mathematician Affiliates of Color Network will spend the next few months recruiting both teachers and mathematicians to the program.

Next August, mathematicians and teachers involved in the grant will be coming to Iowa State where they will be provided a week of professional development going over the ins and outs of the program. They will also be making sure the mathematicians understand where the teachers are coming from as well as the resources and constraints of working within the school system.

Then over the following school year, Young and his colleagues will be monitoring the teachers and their classroom’s progress. As well as encourage, facilitate and support them as they go through the year. During this process, they will also be repeating the same recruiting process to help further expand the network by recruiting more mathematicians and teachers to participate in the program the following school year.

“Part of what we proposed in the grant was that this is sustainable and scalable,” Young said.

There is a possibility, after the two year grant is up, they will continue the grant. The hope is these next two years provide results that allow them to turn this into a large-scale, nationwide network of mathematicians and teachers all contributing to help increase the diversity in the sciences.