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CONTACT: Kathleen Thames
(337) 482-6397, kat@louisiana.edu
June 20, 2012
LAFAYETTE– Fifteen undergraduates from other universities are on campus this summer to check out graduate school and work closely with UL Lafayette mathematics professors.

They are participating in the Smooth Transition for Advancement to Graduate Education for underrepresented groups in mathematical sciences. The mentoring program is conducted mainly in cooperation with historically black colleges and universities.

This year the juniors and seniors represent 11 universities in 8 states.

This is the second year of a three-year program developed by UL Lafayette and funded by the National Science Foundation. It’s intended to better prepare more underrepresented minority students to pursue graduate studies in STEM areas. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

During the eight-week session, the undergraduates will work with four faculty members in the Mathematics Department: Dr. Patricia Beaulieu, assistant professor; Dr. Christina Eubanks-Turner, assistant professor; Dr. Nabendu Pal, professor; and Dr. A.S. Vatsala, professor.

Pal said he and his colleagues learned some valuable lessons last year about the “on-campus logistics” of conducting such a summer program. “It’s running much smoother this year,” he said.

The structure of the session remains the same. It has three core areas: applied math, pure math and statistics.

Participants take a linear algebra course and a crash course in their area of specialization. They undertake guided research and work on improving their skills in writing and presenting research papers. Faculty members will also introduce them to aspects of graduate study, such as seminar presentations and classroom teaching.

The NSF awarded UL Lafayette $548,880 to implement this three-year program. Program participants earn a stipend, live on campus and receive an allowance for meals.

To qualify for the STAGE program, an applicant must be a member of a minority group that is underrepresented among professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The student must be a junior or senior majoring in one of those academic areas with a minimum GPA of 2.75.  

Pal said that under-represented minorities comprise roughly 25 percent of the United State’s population. But they only earn about 6.5 percent of doctoral degrees in the mathematical sciences each year as cited by the American Mathematical Society in a recent report.

Pal said the reasons why more under-represented minorities don’t pursue doctoral degrees in math and related fields are “deeply rooted in socio-economic conditions, and different experts have different opinions.” But he offered some possible factors.

“Their pre-college schooling may not be strong, and as a result, they may find it hard to go through college,” Pal said. Also, many under-represented minority students are the first in their families to graduate from college. So, seeking an academic degree is not an experience they have in common with family members.

By offering their support and guidance through the STAGE program, the faculty members hope to motivate some under-represented minorities to pursue advanced degrees. That support won’t end when the summer session is over, if their relationship with last summer’s group is any indication.

“All four of us are in constant touch with the last year's STAGE students. We encourage them with their academic progress, give them suggestions about attending suitable meetings/conferences, and monitor their academic achievements,” Pal said.

Document last revised Thursday, June 21, 2012 11:59 AM

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