Preparing for opportunities was the theme of a workshop on Minorities and Applied Mathematics -Connections to Industry, held October 4--6, 1996 at the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications (IMA), University of Minnesota. Approximately sixty invited minorities in mathematical sciences attended the workshop. Of these, forty were Ph.D. students from mathematical sciences departments in North America; the other twenty participants represented a range of professional experience from postdoc to senior scientist. Also attending were Avner Friedman, Director of the IMA; Robert Gulliver, Associate Director of the IMA; and Barry Cipra, a science writer.
The workshop was arranged by the IMA Director and the organizers to provide an atmosphere in which minority graduate students could hear about the research and careers associated with applying mathematics to real-world problems. The real-world problems presented to students involved mathematics at all levels from elementary to technical, and showed students the need to communicate across disciplines with scientists and engineers having sophisticated mathematical training. Students began that communication process (listening and speaking) at this workshop. Their careers will be enhanced by this type of exposure; they were encouraged to seek similar opportunties at their home insitutions and in their home regions. Each graduate student attending the workshop agreed to return to their home institution and make a presentation about the workshop, so that its benefits would not be limited to those who attended.
The composition of the workshop--- a relatively small group, mostly graduate students--- was based on the model used at the workshop for women at the IMA in February, 1996 and was intended to create a comfortable and relaxed environment. The workshop contained four components:
- Overview talks by senior participants about their technical work and career experiences;
- Technical talks about the applications of mathematics associated with various real-world problems;
- Focused small-group discussions charged to produce action items for colleges and universities, government laboratories, funding agencies and professional organizations;
- An after-dinner talk by Earl Barnes of Georgia Tech describing how the discovery of Karmarkar's algorithm affected IBM's business strategy and the relationship between further developments in the mathematics and changes in strategy by IBM and its competitors.
The minority mathematics community is small, and the workshop was the first opportunity for many of the students to network with minority professionals sharing their interest in mathematics.
The technical talks were uniformly of high quality, and covered a range of applications, including manufacturing of semi-conductors, microstructure of materials, design of a chemical vapor deposition reactor, mathematical problems arising in biology including freezing of tissues for biomedical engineering, dynamics of proteins in aqueous solutions, transport of solutes across cell membranes and reconstruction of images in tomography. The mathematics involved included wavelets, Markov processes, optimization, partial differential equations and computer models. (Abstracts of all the talks are in Section IV below.)
The small-group discussion sessions were also modelled on the program held for women in February. Each group included about twelve people, typically eight graduate students and four senior mathematicians. One or two people served as coordinators to assure that everyone had a chance to speak and to assure that the group covered all relevant topics. One person was designated as recorder to prepare notes of each group's discussions. Another member of each group was asked to present the group's recommendations at the final assembly of all workshop participants. Student volunteers introduced speakers after the morning session, providing another chance for them to practice their communications skills.
The organizing committee was extremely pleased with the workshop. Participants were so enthusiastic that one of their primary suggestions was a request to meet again to see how people had carried out the suggestions made to them. They wanted to use another meeting to practice skills suggested at this workshop, where graduate students would give more of the talks, and would receive advance help in order to make maximum use of the conference.
The primary value of workshops like this is the students' exposure to people like themselves with interests like theirs, who have accomplished what they are striving to accomplish. All mathematicians are members of many communities--- minorities, women, men, analysts, geometers, topologists, applied mathematicians. Workshops like this do not substitute for the specialized meetings of those communities; they serve to demonstrate the existence of a minority mathematics community which is not visible to students isolated in their graduate programs.
The meeting was valuable because minority mathematicians have an unparalleled opportunity. Mathematics research and education are rapidly changing. The minority mathematics community did not prosper under the old model; there is a willingness in our community to consider other models of preparation for a career in research. This workshop showed that minority students are eager to prepare themselves for twenty-first century opportunities.