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City Tech Professor Delaram Kahrobaei from Iran Awarded NSF Grant

Friday, April 4, 2008

Though the number of U.S. college women majoring in mathematics continues to increase, the percentage of new female PhDs in the field has leveled out since 1999, averaging around 30 percent. A 2006 American Mathematical Society survey reported 1,245 new U.S. doctoral recipients, the highest number ever, but only 32 percent were women.

This trend disturbs two mathematics professors at New York City College of Technology (City Tech), Delaram Kahrobaei, who is from Iran, and her colleague Victoria Gitman, and they are doing all they can to change it. "The current statistics are not very encouraging," says Kahrobaei, "especially since before 1999 there had been a marked increase in female mathematicians."

Recently, these two professors won a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to sponsor the Second Annual New York Women in Mathematics Network (NYWIMN) Conference on the City Tech campus. The upcoming May 2 conference will concentrate on interdisciplinary research in logic, group theory and theoretical computer science. The goal of the NYWIMN conferences is to establish informal networks among female mathematicians, designed to provide young women with role models, and lead to fruitful mentoring relationships and research partnerships. "We hope that the interplay of these research topics will lead to many important collaborations and scientific discoveries," Gitman says.

The upcoming conference will include presentations by world renowned women mathematicians, and poster sessions for graduate students and those recently awarded PhDs, as well as one for undergraduates, who will present the historical achievements of female mathematicians. It will conclude with a panel discussion on success strategies for young women in mathematics.

Kahrobaei, who started teaching at City Tech in 2006, and Gitman, who joined the mathematics faculty this past fall, have been collaborating professionally since they met at The CUNY Graduate Center while Kahrobaei was finishing her PhD and Gitman was midway through hers.

Because they benefited so much from the support of their teachers and colleagues, and realized that this situation was not common for women in mathematics, the two women became determined to help other female mathematicians form the professional and social networks necessary for success. That's why Kahrobaei and Gitman founded NYWIMN and in 2006 organized the group's first conference, attracting 30 students and mathematicians from around the tri-state area.

Both women were drawn to the study of mathematics by the drive to understand the workings of the natural world. Kahrobaei knew since the age of eight that she wanted to be a mathematician. "I was attracted to mathematics because it offered the possibility of attaining absolute truth," she explains. "Mathematics, unlike politics and history, is not ruled by opinion; it is unequivocal."

Obviously, much still needs to be done to increase the number of women in mathematics and Kahrobaei and Gitman are continuing to do their part. 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.

The work being done by Kahrobaei and Gitman will no doubt have an effect on the number of women working in mathematics. "We look forward to seeing the positive results that are bound to occur from Delaram and Victoria's efforts, both at City Tech and in the world of higher education beyond our campus," says Dean Brown.

New York City College of Technology (City Tech) of The City University of New York is the largest public college of technology in New York State. The College enrolls more than 13,500 students in 57 baccalaureate, associate and specialized certificate programs. Another 15,000 students enroll annually in adult education and workforce development programs, many of which lead to licensure and certification.

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