Telling Mathematics Stories: A Collaboration of NAM, IUME, MASCLab, and Program in Mathematics

A team of Teachers College students and researchers visited the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Baltimore, MD in January 2019 to document the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the National Association of Mathematicians (NAM). NAM (https://www.nam-math.org/) was founded in 1969 to ensure a welcoming professional space for African American mathematicians, who for many years were either barred or discouraged from joining and participating actively in other national professional organizations for mathematicians. NAM’s mission continues to be to “promote excellence in the mathematical sciences and to promote the mathematical development of all underrepresented minorities”.

This interdisciplinary team is led by Dr Erica Walker, Director of IUME and Professor of Mathematics Education and Dr Lalitha Vasudevan, Director of MASCLab (housed within the Communication, Media, and Learning Technologies Design Program at TC) and Professor of Technology and Education. Joining the effort in Baltimore were Angela Gooden (IUME Research Associate) and graduate students Dyanne Baptiste (IUME/Mathematics), Emmanuel Blankson (Mathematics), Carol Devoe (CMLTD/MASCLab), Terika Harris (Mathematics), and Ellie Smith (English Education/MASCLab). On January 18th and 19th, the TC group attended panel sessions and talks and conducted brief audio interviews of the current NAM president, Dr. Edray Goins of Pomona College, as well as NAM members and others attending various events commemorating NAM’s 50th anniversary.

Among many highlights for the team was the opportunity to interview Dr Evelyn Boyd Granville, the second Black woman to earn her PhD in mathematics (Yale, 1943), who attended the NAM banquet where she received the NAM Golden Anniversary Legacy Award. The team also interviewed several founders of NAM (including Dr Johnny Houston, former president and professor emeritus at Elizabeth City State University) as well as mathematicians in industry, government service, and academe and undergraduate and graduate students in mathematics.

Team Member Carol Devoe: We also had the opportunity to speak with and learn from doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows like Caleb Ashley, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan and self-described geometer.  In his interview, Ashley describes the inextricable links between mathematics discovery, knowledge-construction and conversation and community. For so many, NAM has provided a space for conversations and professional development to flourish.

This project [part of a larger collaboration between IUME, the Media and Social Change Lab (MASCLab), the Program in Mathematics, and the Program in History and Education] was supported by a Teachers College Provost Investment Fund award. It supports both IUME and MASCLab’s goals of communicating and disseminating important ideas and research in ways that are accessible and engaging for the lay public, as well as broadening audiences for key stories about education, writ broadly. In particular, this project was undertaken because we see the need to ensure that histories and narratives around success and progress in mathematics, for an understudied population, are made public and more visible.  Interviews will be shared via various websites and multimedia projects, including a MASCLab-developed podcast(s) highlighting the story of NAM and mathematicians who have both been instrumental in its founding and who have maintained and sustained it. These interviews and the forthcoming multimedia efforts will support the larger research project, which explores the impact of Black mathematicians and HBCUs on mathematical research and education in the United States.

Stay tuned for more updates about this project!