Two female mathematics professors at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), are working together to help more young women work in mathematics fields. According to a survey by the American Mathematical Society in 2006, there were 1,245 new U.S. PhD. recipients, and although this was the highest number ever, only 400 were women.
The two professors, Victoria Gitman and Delaram Kahrobaei, say the statistics are not very encouraging, and they want to do something about that. Prior to 1999, they say “there had been a marked increase in female mathematicians.”
They recently won a National Science Foundation grant to sponsor the Second Annual New York Women in Mathematics Network (NYWIMN) Conference on the City Tech campus. The conference will concentrate on interdisciplinary research in logic, group theory and theoretical computer science. They aim to establish informal networks among female mathematicians, providing role models, mentoring relationships and research partnerships.
The next conference includes
- presentations by world renowned women mathematicians
- poster sessions for graduate students and those recently awarded PhDs
- poster sessions for undergraduates
- a panel discussion on success strategies for young women in mathematics
The two women met at The CUNY Graduate Center. Kahrobaei was finishing her PhD and Gitman was midway through hers. Both joined the City Tech mathematics faculty are now teaching and collaborating professionally.
They realized that women often do not get much support in mathematics, whereas they had both benefited greatly from the support of their teachers and colleagues. They decided to help other female mathematicians form professional and social networks that would help them to succeed, and they founded NYWIMN. In 2006, the first NYWIMN conference, attracted 30 students and mathematicians from around the tri-state area.
The women were both drawn to mathematics by their drive to understand how the natural world works. Kahrobaei says she knew since age eight that she wanted to be a mathematician. “I was attracted to mathematics because it offered the possibility of attaining absolute truth. Mathematics, unlike politics and history, is not ruled by opinion; it is unequivocal.”
Gitman took an advanced placement calculus course in high school. She said, “This was when I realized that mathematics is not just about plugging numbers into formulas, but involves fascinating concepts and an unlimited supply of puzzles to solve. I fell in love with mathematics because I always wanted to know why things are as they are, and mathematics was the only subject where I could find answers to my questions by understanding the proofs.”
Each had a teacher as a mentor. For Kahrobaei, it was her aunt, who taught physics in Tehran, Iran, and for Gitman, it was Chang Tao, who taught at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. Kahrobaei’s 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 in Tehran, Kahrobaei moved to the U.S. 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.
Gitman came to the U.S. in 1990 at age 10 from Kiev, Ukraine, completing her undergraduate education at Brooklyn College. Her older relatives believed that girls couldn’t do math, but her mother “always believed I could do anything I put my mind to,” she said
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. Gitman relied on the support of her CUNY Graduate Center advisor, Joel Hamkins, whom she describes as “truly amazing,” and “academic brothers” Jonas Reitz and Thomas Johnstone, both of whom now teach at City Tech.
While they work on different problems, Gitman and Kahrobaei combine as proponents of women in mathematics, while pursuing their scientific work, publishing articles and traveling all over the world to lecture and participate in workshops. Gitman’s research investigates the mathematical idea of infinity and Kahrobaei studies mathematical objects known as groups – specifically, their applications in computer science and encrypting information.
The two women understand the value of mentorship, and mentor City Tech students under the Emerging Scholars Program pioneered by Dr. Pamela Brown, dean of the School of Arts & Sciences. The Emerging Scholars Program is designed to train students in research-oriented activities and helps develop long-term relationships with faculty.
Gitman and Kahrobaei continue to help increase the number of women in mathematics. A report at Newswise says “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.”