Summer Program for Women in Mathematics




During Summer 1995, The George Washington University (GW) Mathematics Department hosted a 4-week pilot program for 10 outstanding undergraduate women mathematics majors from around the United States. The program, by every measure, was a terrific success. Each of the 10 participants was glowing in support of the program. Every one of the directors, instructors, and teaching assistants felt that the program provided a tremendous benefit to each participant.

In 1996 and 1997 we hosted a similar program for 16 undergraduate women and the program was a great success. In 1998, this program was expanded to 5 weeks. This program is continuing in its 19th year in the summer of 2013.


Next summer, The George Washington University Mathematics Department will host a Summer Program for Women in Mathematics (SPWM). This is a 5-week program for 16 outstanding undergraduate women majoring in mathematical disciplines who have completed their junior year and are considering graduate study in the mathematical sciences. Goals of the program are to communicate an enthusiasm for mathematics, to develop research skills, to cultivate mathematical self-confidence and independence, and to promote success in graduate school. We bring the participants into contact with successful women mathematicians in academia, industry, and government. We aim to provide the students with a broad exposure to mathematical culture, illustrating the beauty and attraction of mathematics, the tools necessary for success in mathematics, applications of mathematics to business and industry, and the career opportunities available to mathematicians.

The academic program consists of two 3-week courses and two 2-week courses. All courses are led by professional mathematicians, who are assisted by graduate students. (No academic credit or grades are awarded.) Topics for these courses aim to complement the typical math major curriculum and are focused to permit the students to reach interesting open problems in a relatively short time. The plan is to lead the students to the forefront of current research, so that they might learn to appreciate the mathematical research enterprise. Details of the courses and instructors for the past years are available here.

Throughout the five weeks, the program provides extensive contact with guest speakers who give expository talks on the areas of their research interests. Some of the guest speakers also address mathematical history, mathematical ethics, and mathematical philosophy. The speakers are available to participate in discussions about their careers and personal and professional experiences. Details of the guest speakers for the past years are available here.

We organize several panel discussions on the issues of careers and the job market, graduate schools, and gender issues. Details of the past panels are available here . We take weekly field trips to see women mathematicians at work in the many centers of mathematical activity in the Washington area. Details of the past field trips are available here. A series of mathematical films is offered, and the program allows ample time for self-paced work as well as for reflection, recreation, and relaxation. Details of the past films are available here.

During this program, time is devoted to getting acquainted with some basic tools of mathematics, including instruction in modern mathematical software and library research skills, and including discussions and analyses of mathematical writing and proof techniques.

The student participants, graduate assistants, and faculty are housed in comfortable dormitories on the GW campus, in order to foster an atmosphere of community and camaraderie.

Goals and Objectives

The proposed program aims to:

  • provide an immersion program representative of key aspects of graduate school and professional mathematical practice.
  • promote active mathematical thinking.
  • underscore the beauty and enjoyment of mathematics.
  • foster a camaraderie among the participants that emphasizes collaboration and peer support.
  • bring the participants into contact with active mathematical researchers through a program of guest lectures and field trips.
  • provide interaction with a wide variety of successful women in mathematical sciences who serve as role models.
  • illustrate the role of mathematics as the foundation of the sciences and the wide range of mathematical applications in government, business, and industry through first-hand contact with applied mathematicians.
  • provide students with information about graduate schools and careers in mathematics.


SPWM is a five week program and runs from late June/early July to late July/early August. Participants are housed on the GW campus in downtown Washington, DC. The participants reside in a dormitory together with the teaching assistants (graduate students) and faculty (professional mathematicians who lead the instructional program). All participants have access to the library, computer, and recreational facilities on the GW campus.

Washington area is an ideal location for a program to immerse students into mathematics. There is, around Washington, a thriving community of pure and applied mathematicians working at federal government agencies and laboratories, at several major universities, and in high-tech industry. The nation's single largest employer of mathematicians, the National Security Agency, is also located near Washington. We take advantage of our unique location by visiting mathematicians at such sites.

Instructional Activities

We propose to replicate the format of our successful program. During each of the five weeks of the summer program, we will devote four days to activities based on campus and one day to a field trip associated with careers and applications of mathematics, with weekends left for independent and group study, consultation with faculty and graduate students, rest, and relaxation. The activities based on campus are centered around two 3-week courses, and two 2-week courses. The daily schedule for the on-campus days is

9:00 -- 11:30 Session #1
12:00 -- 1:30 Lunch
1:30 -- 4:00 Session #2
4:30 -- 6:00 Guest Lecture, panel discussions or math films (as scheduled)
6:00 -- 7:00 Dinner
7:00 -- 9:00 Problem session or group study

Each session is led by a professional mathematician and a graduate teaching assistant. Details of the teaching staff for the past years and their courses are available here.

Each course focuses on an accessible area of current research and involves the participants in group work, problem solving, mathematical writing, speaking, library research, and computation.

Each course provides a learning environment in which lecturing plays a minimal role, with the staff members doing more questioning than answering, more guiding than revealing. Teamwork is strongly encouraged.

The students have access to computer labs equipped with a large variety of hardware and software, including Maple, Mathematica, Matlab, thus providing a flexible environment for symbolic and numerical calculation. They also have access to the Gelman Library at GW, which holds more than 2 million books and subscribes to over 100 mathematical journals.

The students take an active role at all times. Working individually and in groups, the students explore, experiment, discover, formulate, conjecture, and prove significant mathematical results. Oral and written presentation is an important component; on the last days of each course, the students present written and oral reports summarizing the course. In this environment, students discover that they have the power to do mathematics on their own. They develop the self-confidence to engage in independent work and the necessary communication skills to engage in the kind of collaborative efforts that produce much of today's new research.

Guest Lectures

The program of guest speakers is intended to bring the participants into contact with a wide variety of mathematical professionals. We invite a guest speakers each week, who spends an afternoon at GW to inspire, stimulate, and inform the participants. We coordinate the topics for the guest talks with the mathematical content of our classroom activities, both by preparing the students beforehand and by allowing time for discussion afterwards. The speakers interact with the participants before and after their talk and entertain discussions on their background, their education, and their careers.

Details of the guest speakers and their titles for the past years are available here.

Several of our guest speakers have expressed an eagerness to associate with our program and come back year after year. Our participants find that they obtain more glimpses into the wide, diverse world of math, and they enjoy the opportunity to interact with the speakers before and after the lectures.


Many evenings are focused around problem sets, which are designed to intrigue students. The problems ask students to explore examples, conjectures, fallacies, paradoxes, definitions, theorems, and generalizations. The faculty and teaching assistants are available during these evening hours to stimulate or encourage participants and to assist in the development of collaborative problem solving groups. Generally, these sessions are not highly structured.

Certain evenings are devoted to mathematical films, selected on the basis of their mathematical content, the quality of their presentation, and their cultural and philosophical insights. The content of the films supplement our guest lectures and the curricula in our classrooms; each show is followed by a group discussion. The GW library has an extensive collection of appropriate films.

Details of the mathematical films shown during the past years are available here.

Saturdays and Sundays are free for individual and group study and for sightseeing and relaxation.

Field Trips

One day each week is devoted to an area of application of mathematics and an associated field trip. These activities bring the participants into contact with women mathematicians in their own workplace and expose the participants to current issues at the forefront of mathematics, the wide variety of applications of mathematics, the depth and complexity of the kinds of mathematics involved, and the possibilities for careers related to mathematics.

Details of the past field trips are available here.

Panel discussions

We organize several panel discussions to address other issues associated with the mathematics community, including careers, the job market, and graduate schools. Through these panels, the participants are able to obtain a wealth of information on career options, networking, graduate schools, the job market, and gender issues.

Details of the past panel discussions are available here.

Selection of Participants

Our participants are women undergraduates who have completed their junior year and are considering graduate study in mathematics. We are especially interested in attracting students who might not have access to, experience with, or information about graduate study in mathematics. We expect students to have some experience with mathematics beyond the typical first courses in linear algebra and differential equations.

We advertise our future programs to all the mathematics departments in the United States and in such publications as the Notices of the American Mathematical Society, Math Horizons, and the Mathematical Association of America's newsletter FOCUS.

The selection process is based upon the students' college transcripts, personal statements, and letters of recommendation.

A list of our past participants is available here.

Program Assessment

We carry out program evaluations through extensive formal and informal feedback from the participants. We asked the participants to provide written comments at the midpoint and at the end of the Summer Program. Some of the typical comments are

  • ``I gained a wealth of information and insight. I'm now convinced that I can succeed in grad school.''
  • ``Just being around peers and faculty and other professionals helped a great deal and I've made a [career] decision.''
  • ``I feel the strongest part of this program was the interaction between us the students with faculty, guest speakers, and TAs. I have learned so much from it and it has made this experience one which will have a strong impact on my life hereafter.''
  • ``It was great reading the research papers. It was very encouraging to realize that I know enough to read other people's work.''
  • ``I have grown a great deal mathematically in my short stay. The faculty, students and staff have been crucial to this.''
  • ``I have met many wonderful and exciting people and broadened my understanding about what grad school entails and the subjects I could study to have a prosperous and enjoyable future.''
  • ``This has been an excellent experience. I now feel confident about graduate school. I also feel confident about my choice to be in mathematics... I now know I can succeed in math.''
  • ``The program really did motivate me.''
  • ``I am amazed at how much more aware I am now than I was a month ago.''

This is what a faculty advisor wrote in 1997 about a program participant from our 1995 summer program: ``I believe that [student name]'s summer at GWU changed her life. When she returned to [college name] in September, she was unable to contain her enthusiasm. After her summer experience, she was certain that she wanted to pursue a career as a professor of mathematics. Today, [student name] is in graduate school at the University of Virginia.''

We recently approached all of the program participants for their impressions about the long term impact and effectiveness of our program. A participant from our 1995 summer program wrote:

  • ``The summer math program was very beneficial for me. It introduced me to a lot of people who loved math as much as I did and the program gave me an idea of what to expect in grad school. I am glad that I was offered such an opportunity.''

Several participants from our 1996 summer program wrote:

  • ``I believe that the summer program helped me tremendously. It gave me an idea of what grad school would be like and it helped encourage me to go on with my studies. I still keep in touch with a few others so I have also made some lasting friendships. I really think the summer program was very beneficial to me and helped broaden my horizon. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity.''
  • ``As for the effectiveness of SPWM, the program really helped me a lot to develop more mathematical sophistication and to appreciate the ever-growing world of mathematics. It was also really great to understand math in a more global sense: not only were we taking classes from disciplines we'd never heard of before (Measure Theory), but we were taking classes with people from all over the country, and with teachers from all over the world. So, I really think that this universal aspect of mathematics is something that I only appreciated after the program, and especially now in graduate school. I definitely think that SPWM prepared me for graduate school: at least in the sense that we knew what to expect, and could in some ways determine whether or not we could (or even if we wanted to) rise to the challenge.''
  • ``My impressions of the program..... I think it was one of the most important things I ever did. I needed to be with other girls who were math majors. There were a lot of things we had in common that I didn't get to share with people at my own university. It was an extremely unique situation for me to be in a math class with ALL girls! Really different classroom dynamics in terms of what I did and how we related to each other. Thank you for that opportunity!''
  • ``I think SPWM is a successful program. I think by making it as challenging as it was for us, it helped everyone get a sense for where they were and what the future in grad school would be like.''
  • ``I enjoyed meeting other women interested in math. The whole experience made me really consider going on to graduate school in mathematics, and opened my eyes to all the possible directions I could take. My math classes here didn't really give me the "big picture;" I didn't know that there were so many different fields of mathematics to choose from.

We received the following comments from two participants of our 1997 summer program:

  • ``As for the summer program. I found it very effective. It definitely convinced me to attend graduate school. It also gave me confidence in my abilities. I had a great time there and I enjoyed meeting other women in math and learning new things.''
  • ``I have been in classes for almost a month now, my how times flies. The only math class I am taking now is Abstract Algebra. It is a bit strange knowing that we will not cover the material we learned at the program because that is more advanced than we will get.''

We propose to obtain participant feedback in a similar manner in the future years. We also carry out follow-up surveys to determine the long-term impact of our summer programs on the participants.


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