Institute for Mathematics and its Applications hosts 2022 Field of Dreams conference

MINNEAPOLIS, MN (11/30/2022) – Hosted by the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), attendees convened for the Field of Dreams conference on November 4th and 5th, 2022. The annual conference for Math Alliance scholars and mentors introduces prospective graduate students to graduate programs in the mathematical sciences at Math Alliance schools as well as professional opportunities in these fields. The Math Alliance is a national community of students, faculty, and staff dedicated to increasing the number of doctoral degrees in the mathematical and statistical sciences among groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in those fields. 

This year’s Field of Dreams conference featured speakers included Federico Ardila-Mantilla (San Francisco State University), Kimberly Sellers (Georgetown University), and Michael Young (Carnegie Mellon University). The University of Minnesota’s own Vice President for Equity and Diversity, Dr. Mercedes Ramírez Fernández, gave brief remarks on the first day of the conference. “Your presence here today demonstrates our shared and deep commitment to building a national community of students, faculty, and staff working together to transform our departments, our colleges, and our universities into communities where we all feel this awesome sense of belonging, and where we can thrive personally and professionally,” Dr. Ramírez Fernández said. Over the course of the weekend, the conference program included informational panels, networking opportunities, and tours of the UMN Mathematics Department for prospective students. Each year the conference brings together over 100 predoctoral students in the mathematical sciences, approximately 80% of whom are members of minority groups that have been historically underrepresented and underserved in STEM. 

The School of Mathematics’ relationship with the Math Alliance and commitment to equity in graduate admissions extends far beyond one weekend. Seven years ago, Professor Richard McGehee connected the School of Mathematics to Math Alliance after being inspired by the 2015 Field of Dreams conference in Birmingham, Alabama. Since then, the University of Minnesota has worked with Math Alliance to support scholars pursuing doctoral degrees in the mathematical sciences. In fact, 19 UMNTC Mathematics faculty members are Math Alliance mentors. These mentors advise students in the program, nominate Math Alliance Predoctoral Scholars, and provide guidance and leadership for the community. 

One of the initiatives that Math Alliance makes possible is the Facilitated Graduate Admissions Procedure (F-GAP). The program provides mentorship and support services for scholars throughout the application and admissions process of applying to graduate school. Angel Chavez, a second-year Mathematics PhD student interested in graph theory and other discrete structures, is an F-GAP scholar who moved to Minnesota from California to pursue his education. He remarks that his mathematical drive comes from a desire to understand the universe. Parallel to his passion for math, Chavez is interested in being a teacher of math for Latinx immigrant communities. “These are often places where there is lots of talent but no outreach. Due to a lack of knowledge of the opportunities a math degree can give, the children of immigrant parents tend to go to other places. All these talented people leave academia. “

About his personal experience with the F-GAP Program Chavez writes: “My experience with F-GAP was extremely helpful. I am the son of immigrant parents. My parents did not graduate middle school. I’m lucky my parents are extremely supportive but there are hard limits on the academic support they can give me. I knew nothing of letters of recommendation, personal statements, or even that grad school can be funded. Having a F-GAP mentor helped me tremendously to learn the culture of academia.”

The Institute for Mathematics and its Applications was selected as the hosting venue for the 2022 conference via a competitive selection process. Participant support is provided by National Science Foundation (DMS#2015550) and the National Security Agency (H98230-22-1-0030). The School of Mathematics would like to thank the Math Alliance for their support and collaboration that made the conference possible.