The City University of New York
Brooklyn, NY -- March 19, 2008 -- Though the number of U.S. college women majoring in mathematics continues to increase, the percentage of new female PhDs in the field has leveled out since 1999, averaging around 30 percent. A 2006 American Mathematical Society survey reported 1,245 new U.S. doctoral recipients, the highest number ever, but only 32 percent were women.
This trend disturbs two mathematics professors at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), Delaram Kahrobaei, who is from Iran, and her colleague Victoria Gitman, and they are doing all they can to change it. "The current statistics are not very encouraging," says Kahrobaei, "especially since before 1999 there had been a marked increase in female mathematicians."
City Tech Professors Kahrobaei (left) and Gitman
Photo credit: Michele Forsten for City Tech
Recently, these two professors won a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to sponsor the Second Annual New York Women in Mathematics Network (NYWIMN) Conference on the City Tech campus. The upcoming May 2 conference will concentrate on interdisciplinary research in logic, group theory and theoretical computer science. The goal of the NYWIMN conferences is to establish informal networks among female mathematicians, designed to provide young women with role models, and lead to fruitful mentoring relationships and research partnerships. "We hope that the interplay of these research topics will lead to many important collaborations and scientific discoveries," Gitman says.
The upcoming conference will include presentations by world renowned women mathematicians, and poster sessions for graduate students and those recently awarded PhDs, as well as one for undergraduates, who will present the historical achievements of female mathematicians. It will conclude with a panel discussion on success strategies for young women in mathematics. (For information, go to http://www.nywimn.net.)
Kahrobaei, who started teaching at City Tech in 2006, and Gitman, who joined the mathematics faculty this past fall, have been collaborating professionally since they met at The CUNY Graduate Center while Kahrobaei was finishing her PhD and Gitman was midway through hers.
Because they benefited so much from the support of their teachers and colleagues, and realized that this situation was not common for women in mathematics, the two women became determined to help other female mathematicians form the professional and social networks necessary for success. That's why Kahrobaei and Gitman founded NYWIMN and in 2006 organized the group's first conference, attracting 30 students and mathematicians from around the tri-state area.
Each of the two founders brings a different area of research expertise and skill set to this mission. "Delaram is very creative and has more professional experience and connections," Gitman says.
Kahrobaei adds, "Victoria is a very good writer and organizer." They agree that their main strength as collaborators is the ability to brainstorm, support each other and work well together.
Both women were drawn to the study of mathematics by the drive to understand the workings of the natural world. Kahrobaei knew since the age of eight that she wanted to be a mathematician. "I was attracted to mathematics because it offered the possibility of attaining absolute truth," she explains. "Mathematics, unlike politics and history, is not ruled by opinion; it is unequivocal."
Kahrobaei was spurred on by her aunt, who taught physics in Tehran, Iran. Her all-female high school in Tehran, where she grew up, was also supportive, but her undergraduate environment at Sharif University of Technology "was not very friendly to women studying mathematics; sometimes women who asked questions in the classroom were ignored." Soon after graduating, she came to the U.S. in 1998 at age 22 and earned her master's degree in mathematics from Claremont College in California, followed by a master's in computer science from The City College of New York's School of Engineering.
Kahrobaei cites her advisor Gilbert Baumslag of The CUNY Graduate Center, Ada Peluso, chair of mathematics at Hunter College and Manhattan College Professor Katalin Bencsath, her "academic sister," for their support. She is also grateful for the experience of collaborating with distinguished female mathematicians Kiran Bhutani, Goulnara Arzhantseva and Bettina Eick.
But Kahrobaei thrives most on the support she receives from Gitman. "We were definitely friends first," Kahrobaei affirms. "I always thought of Delaram as my mentor as well as my friend," Gitman adds, "She helped me get through the stress involved in the early stages of research and the application process for my job search."
Through her activities, Kahrobaei is an indefatigable proponent of women in mathematics, pursuing her scientific work, publishing articles and traveling all over the world to lecture and participate in workshops. Her research involves mathematical objects known as groups -- specifically, their applications in computer science and encrypting information. Groups are often used to capture the internal symmetry of structures.
Because she understands the value of mentorship, Kahrobaei serves as a mentor to City Tech students under the Emerging Scholars Program pioneered by Dr. Pamela Brown, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. This program is designed to train students in research-oriented activities and allow them to develop long-term relationships with faculty.
Obviously, much still needs to be done to increase the number of women in mathematics and Kahrobaei and Gitman are continuing to do their part. They are currently applying for a second NSF grant to conduct a self-study of the social and academic environment at City Tech and the larger CUNY setting to determine its impact on the participation of women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines. The outcome of this self-study will be used to introduce improvements geared toward engaging more women in STEM fields.
The work being done by Kahrobaei and Gitman will no doubt have an effect on the number of women working in mathematics. "We look forward to seeing the positive results that are bound to occur from Delaram and Victoria's efforts, both at City Tech and in the world of higher education beyond our campus," says Dean Brown.
New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York is the largest public college of technology in New York State. The College enrolls more than 13,500 students in 57 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs. Another 15,000 students enroll annually in adult education and workforce development programs, many of which lead to licensure and certification. Located at 300 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, City Tech is at the MetroTech Center academic and commercial complex, convenient to public transportation.
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