Mathematics Project at Minnesota: Yes, you belong here!

MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (4/4/2023) – Finding your footing as an undergraduate student on a sprawling university campus can be overwhelming. Diving into high-level mathematics courses can be challenging, too. The Mathematics Project at Minnesota (MPM) aims to help underrepresented undergraduate students navigate both of these obstacles through a week-long winter workshop. 

MPM seeks to provide community, role-models, and a sense of mathematical empowerment through their annual workshop. The week is a blend of professional development, social activities, and individual mathematical projects. MPM also hosts a series of diversity and inclusivity workshops focused on topics like identity, Impostor Syndrome, and growth mindset. About 100 students are invited to participate each year, engaging in these sessions to absorb valuable coaching and have fun while doing it. The workshop connects these students that already have a ton in common: an interest in math, their experiences in math classes at UMN, and for many participants also their identities as members of underrepresented groups.

“A major goal of the workshop is to make participants feel like they are mathematicians, so that’s what a lot of our activities aim to do. The idea is ‘Yes, you are a mathematician!’” – Elise Catania, MPM Organizer

The 2023 post MPM-survey indicated major success in building confidence in participants. Survey results saw an increase from 79% in pre-survey to 94% in post-survey of positive responses to the statement “I identify as a math person.” To date, at least 15 students from MPM have applied to graduate school, 22 have participated in mathematics research, two have joined the Math Alliance and two have participated in the McNair Scholars Program. As a further indicator of success, undergraduates who have participated in MPM consistently return as counselors in subsequent years. In 2023 there were 10 such alumni counselors.

The community engagement of MPM supports both the undergraduate attendees and the graduate students organizers and mentors. PhD students Elise Catania, Patty Commins, and Marcella Manivel play a major role in bringing MPM together. The organizers collaborate throughout the fall semester to bring the event to life in mid-January each year. 

“It’s really fun seeing participants grow and change throughout the workshop. The students get to know each other and develop connections in the context of mathematics. I’m a very community-oriented person, so existing in a mathematical community is important to me. I think feeling a sense of belonging benefits everyone, especially for people who don’t see themselves represented in mathematical pop culture or in the mental notion of what it is to be a mathematician. Existing in this community, and seeing others get to be a part of that is really fulfilling for me.” - Marcella Manivel, MPM Organizer

MPM was founded at the University of Minnesota by Harini Chandramouli, Kim Klinger-Logan, and Alice Nadeau in 2018. As MPM celebrates their fifth anniversary, the event organizers and faculty liaison Assistant Professor Max Engelstein are seeking to build MPM’s support system for the future. With financial support from the University and corporate sponsors, the workshop could grow to invite more students annually and host smaller events throughout the academic year to help keep the spirit of the community alive. Additional funding could also provide stipends for students for whom taking a week off of work to participate in the event would be a stressor. 

The outcomes of MPM are powerful. As one past participant said: “The past few months I haven’t felt like I belong in the math world, but this workshop helped me realize a lot of people feel this way and that will help me have a little more confidence in myself.” Sustained by a solid support system, MPM will be able to continue to assure and impact hundreds of students for years to come.