Background for Creating a Math Alliance Mentored Reading Program

The Math Alliance (MA) provides mentoring by faculty (F-GAP mentors, FGM) for students (F-GAP scholars, FGS) from underrepresented groups, aspiring to graduate studies in the Mathematical Sciences. Currently, the MA has about 787 Mentors in Doctoral programs, about 200 of whom volunteer to be FGMs, in any given year.  These FGMs typically mentor around 300 FGSs per year. 

In recent years, many mathematical sciences departments have institutionalized Directed Reading Programs (DRPs). These are programs where promising undergraduate students read on an advanced topic not available in the courses offered at the institution, under the guidance of a mentor. For many DRPs, the mentors are graduate students. 

We are creating a Mentored Reading Program (MRP) within the MA, with faculty from doctoral programs as reading mentors. Interested faculty can contribute possible reading projects to a database from which students can select. Faculty mentors could be FGMs and students involved in the program could be FGSs, but these are not necessities. Readings take place through remote (virtual) meetings. The recent years during the pandemic have demonstrated the viability of this approach. 

Such a Mentored Reading Program presents a number of advantages. 

  • It exposes students to a topic that is not available at their home institution, preparing them better for graduate school, REUs, and internships. 
  • The reading mentor will closely interact with the reader, and will be in a position to provide a letter of recommendation for the reader’s future graduate school applications. In any case, the reading program leads to a letter of recommendation not from the student’s home institution. The student should be involved with an independent reading in their junior year. 
  • By providing the additional benefit of a Mentored Reading Program, the MA is likely able to attract more students from backgrounds that are typically underrepresented in math and statistics to its activities, leading to the MA serving a larger percentage of these students. 

Logistical considerations

  • Reading could be one-on-one with one mentor and one student, but mentors could allow multiple students to sign up for readings, providing another support system for the students in the reading. 
  • Mentors are allowed flexibility in how they organize their readings: frequency of meetings, expectations, outcomes. It is essential that the parameters for each reading are clearly communicated so that students know what they are committing to. As an explicit example: mentors can design their offered reading as a way to get into undergraduate research. 
  • Readings can culminate in a presentation at a symposium. The symposium may be held virtually, but there may also be an event at the FoD conference. Superb presentations could result in student awards. 

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