3 African American Women x 3 Ph.D.s =

One Rare Achievement in Mathematics

(l to r) Tasha Inniss, Sherry Scott and Kimberly Weems

PRESS RELEASE Dec. 12, 2000
[CONTACT: Lee Tune 301-405-4679 ltune@accmail.umd.edu]

   COLLEGE PARK, Md. * On December 21 at the University of Maryland, Tasha Inniss, Kimberly Weems and Sherry Scott will do something few other African American women have done * receive Ph.D.s in mathematics.

   "You can count on your hand the number of African-American women today who are Ph.D.'s in Math," Inniss said. "And we all know who they are."

   "These students, their work and their achievement are quite remarkable," said Patrick Fitzpatrick, chair of the department of mathematics at Maryland. "And its gratifying that our department is almost certainly the first anywhere to award doctorates in math to three African American women at the same time."

   According to Fitzpatrick, data from the American Math Society show that there were only 12 math Ph.D.s awarded to African Americans in the entire United States in 1998-99, the most recent academic year for which data are available. "In addition, we have one of the top graduate programs in mathematics in the country, so earning a Ph.D. in mathematics at Maryland is extremely challenging," he said.

   Although in 1970 the University of Maryland awarded Genevieve Knight a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education, no one has earned a Ph..D. in Mathematics until now. Inniss, Scott and Weems, are the first African-American women to receive Ph.D.s in mathematics from the university, said that the support they got from the program was important in their success. They lauded the faculty and the opportunities available at Maryland, and commended the school for welcoming them and making them feel at home from the very beginning. "You did not come across problems at Maryland like you could find at other schools," said Weems.

   Fitzpatrick said the department is making a strong effort to recruit and support women and minorities. "Our department currently has what is, almost certainly, the most diverse body of [math] graduate students in the country. Thirty-three percent of our 213 graduate students are women. We have 21 African-American and 8 Hispanic graduate students. Over the past five years, fully 33 percent of our Ph.D.s have been awarded to women."

   In February of 2000, the Quality Education for Minorities Network honored the University of Maryland as one of the nation's leaders in awarding doctoral degrees to minorities in the areas of mathematics, computer and physical sciences and engineering.

   Inniss, Weems and Scott said their families were a primary reason that they developed an abiding interest in math and pursued that interest all the way to Ph.D.s. Each said that, along the way, supportive teachers also were an important factor in their success.

   Inniss, whose thesis title is "Distributed Stochastic Models for the Estimation of Airport Arrival Capacity Distributions," said her mother teaches sociology at Florida A & M University and strongly believes in the value of education. And she said her grandfather, a 6th grade teacher with a master's degree from Harvard, was an inspiration and another major source of encouragement. "He taught me my multiplication tables," she said. "In fourth grade when I won second place in a math competition, my grandfather was in the front row."

   "I never was given the impression that a woman could not or was not supposed to do math," Inniss said. "There weremany teachers, including my grandfather, that fostered and encouraged my love in math. These teachers and mentors have influenced me to give back a little of what they have given me."

   Weems's said the long road to her thesis, "On Robustness Against Mis-Specified Mixing Distribution and Generalized Linear Mixed Models," began as a young child, when she would play after school in the classroom of her mother, a middle school math and science teacher. "She always encouraged me to pursue my interest in these areas."

   Weems said that later she drew great strength from African American women math professors she had at Spelman College in Atlanta, where she received her undergraduate degree.

   "I have been fortunate to have strong influential women in my life, many of whom are African American," she said. "I hope that I can be a role model for young girls and inspire them to pursue mathematical careers."

   Scott's mother, a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin, inspired her to pursue a higher education path that has now culminated in a Ph.D. thesis on, "Spectral Analysis of Fractal Noise in Terms of Wiener's Generalized Harmonic Analysis and Wavelet Theory. "We were all taught that the math had to be there if you wanted to succeed," Scott said.

   All three women said they find it discouraging that there are so few women and minorities in their field and that progress in graduating more minority Ph.D.s has been so slow. "The fighting doesn't stop. You still have to prove yourself," Scott said.

   Despite these feelings, the women say they are encouraged about the future. "You have to show 'em, don't tell 'em," Inniss said. "Be that good teacher and be that good researcher."

   For Weems, Scott and Inniss, "life after thesis" has already begun. Each completed the requirements for their doctoral degrees this summer and has been working ever since. Inniss teaches at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. where she has been appointed as a Clare Boothe Luce Professor, and also consults for the Federal Aviation Administration. Weems does "Cryptonic Mathematics" and signal analysis as part of a research internship at the National Security Agency. And Scott does research and teaching as a visiting assistant professor in George Washington University's statistics department.  



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