A Minor with Major Merit

10/4/2019 3:31:00 PM


Agegnehu Atena teaches a Calculus II class
Agegnehu Atena, Ph.D., teaches a Calculus II class. Atena was instrumental in establishing the applied mathematics minor.

Jamyce Battle had never considered studying applied mathematics when her calculus professor suggested she minor in the new program at Savannah State University. But as the sophomore computer science major from Atlanta, Ga., learned more about the discipline, she became intrigued.

Today Battle is one of five students receiving a scholarship as part of SSU’s Applied Math Research Training and Internship program. “The program interested me when I was told that I would be researching things that have never been done before. That caught my attention,” Battle says.

Apply for the scholarship 

To be considered for the competitive scholarship, applicants must declare applied mathematics as their minor, maintain a 3.0 grade point average, write an essay and provide letters of recommendation. Selected students receive a $5,400 stipend and $1,025 for conference travel.

The minor in applied mathematics is the latest addition to Savannah State’s repertoire of math programs, which also include bachelor of science and master of science degrees in mathematics. A $399,972 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program Targeted Infusion Project (HBCU-UP TIP) program enabled the university to launch the minor in August 2017 and offer the complementary scholarship program.

“Applied mathematics is a bridge between pure mathematics and other sciences,” says Agegnehu Atena, Ph.D., associate professor of mathematics and the grant’s principal investigator (PI), noting that the applied mathematics minor has already attracted 13 students officially, with many more showing interest in the discipline.

While the university has long offered individual courses in applied mathematics, the minor is the first opportunity for students to delve deeper into the discipline. And though math majors can and do take courses in applied mathematics, the minor program is intended to supplement other areas of study, especially the sciences.

Agegnehu Atena and Jamcye Battle
Atena with Jamyce Battle.

Battle hopes the minor in applied mathematics and the research she’s conducting as part of the scholarship program will help her pursue a career in computer technology as an IT director.

“I believe my applied mathematics research will help me in the future,” says Battle, who is conducting research with faculty mentors Tilahun Muche, Ph.D., an assistant professor of mathematics, and Alberto De La Cruz, an instructor of computer science technology, in the areas of calculus and linear algebra. “My experience with it will allow me to stand out.”

In addition to the creation of the applied mathematics minor and scholarship program, the NSF HBCU-UP TIP grant has enabled the mathematics department to offer professional training and workshops to faculty and graduate students, as well as specialized applied mathematics instruction for local high school teachers.

The ultimate goal of the program is to increase interest and enrollment in mathematics at SSU, strengthen math teaching and learning and develop students’ mathematical knowledge and problem solving, help prepare students for STEM careers, and help develop pipelines that will lead students from K-12 into college math programs.

“Savannah State University is leading the way in mathematics education in the area,” says SSU President Cheryl Davenport Dozier, DSW. “By adding the minor in applied mathematics and offering a scholarship program in the field, we are creating new avenues for students. This will not only impact our own students as they graduate and pursue graduate degrees and enter the job market, but it will also have a lasting impact on our community as we help shape the next generation of STEM innovators.” 

Mastering a Future in STEM

Though African-Americans represent roughly 13.3 percent of the population of the United States, a 2017 report by the National Science Foundation found that they comprised only 7.2 percent of master’s degree awardees in STEM fields from 2004 to 2014. And the statistic was even lower for those receiving master of science degrees in mathematics and ocean sciences, at 2.8 and 1.2 percent, respectively.

“It was a sobering statistic,” says SSU President Cheryl Davenport Dozier, DSW. “Savannah State University is in a unique position to combat this inequity.”

To help reverse that statistic, SSU has launched the SSU Masters in Mathematics and Marine Sciences (SSUMMS) program, which aims to increase the number and strengthen the preparedness of African-American and low income M.S. graduates in both disciplines.

Funded through a six-year, $2.5 million U.S. Department of Education Title VII grant, SSUMMS supports 10 qualified merit scholars each year, providing student stipends, tuition, research support and travel expenses to recruit and retain high-quality students. The goal of the program is to prepare the students for admission to doctoral and professional degree programs and to compete in the STEM workforce.

“The SSUMMS grant arrived at a critical time in the fall of 2017 to allow a strong start for the M.S. in mathematics degree program and to rebuild the graduate student ranks within marine sciences following a brief slump in federal funding,” says Carol Pride, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences and the grant’s principal investigator (PI), noting that both fields require significant funding for equipment and technology needs. “The SSUMMS grant is providing some of the research funding needed for our students to complete their thesis work in a timely manner, to be able to present their results at professional conferences and to compete with the best once they leave SSU.”

This article appeared in the 2018 issue of "Arising: The Research Journal of Savannah State University." Story by Amy Pine. Photography by Hon Low.

Established in 1890, Savannah State University is the oldest public historically black college or university in Georgia and the oldest institution of higher learning in the city of Savannah. The university's 3,600 students select majors from 30 undergraduate and five graduate programs in four colleges ‐ Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, Business Administration, Sciences and Technology, and Education.

-- SSU --

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Agegnehu Atena and Jamcye Battle
Agegnehu Atena teaches a Calculus II class