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Carleton Math Professor Earns Prestigious Award

December 2, 2011

Northfield, Minn.—Deanna Haunsperger, professor of mathematics at Carleton College, has earned the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) M. Gweneth Humphreys Award.

The second annual award, presented at the Joint Mathematics Meetings in Boston, is named for M. Gweneth Humphreys (1911-2006). Professor Humphreys graduated with honors in mathematics from the University of British Columbia in 1932, earning the prestigious Governor General's Gold Medal at graduation. After receiving her master's degree from Smith College in 1933, Humphreys earned her PhD at age 23 from the University of Chicago in 1935. She taught mathematics to women for her entire career, first at Mount St. Scholastica College, then for several years at Sophie Newcomb College, and finally for more than 30 years at Randolph-Macon Woman's College. This award, funded by contributions from her former students and colleagues at Randolph-Macon, recognizes her commitment to and her profound influence on undergraduate students of mathematics.

Haunsperger’s nomination letters describe the amazing community of women in mathematics that she has created and nurtured for many years. She is a dedicated mentor, going out of her way to help young women make connections in the mathematical world. Colleagues at Carleton credit her with the helping to build and sustain the strong community of math majors there. She has served as co-editor of Math Horizons and as second vice president of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA).

“I am delighted and honored to receive the M. Gweneth Humphreys Award for Mentorship of Undergraduate Women in Mathematics from the Association for Women in Mathematics. Mentoring students in mathematics––young women in particular––has given great meaning to my life as a professor,” Haunsperger said. “The mentoring I received, both while an undergraduate and as a graduate student in mathematics, made an immeasurable difference in my professional life. I want all young women who are strongly interested in mathematics to know that they can succeed in mathematics and that there is a mathematical community waiting to receive them.”

Haunsperger, together with professor of mathematics Stephen Kennedy, conceived of Carleton’s summer mathematics program to mentor talented women early in their undergraduate studies. They have directed it nearly every summer since 1995, with Haunsperger playing the primary role in mentoring the participants. This program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is different from other mathematics programs for women because it is intended for mathematically talented students in their first or second year of college who are uncertain about their future mathematical trajectory. Many are from small colleges from which few students go on to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics. The program gives these students a community of women who are serious about mathematics, and in the end many pursue graduate studies in the field.

“Although nearly one-half of undergraduate degrees in mathematics go to women, only about one-quarter of PhDs in mathematics do,” Haunsperger said. “When Stephen Kennedy and I started the Carleton College Summer Mathematics Program for Women in 1995, we wanted to give undergraduate women who are talented in mathematics an opportunity to be surrounded by other women similarly talented, to encounter female role models, and to understand that they are capable of earning advanced degrees in mathematics.

“Each summer we try to encourage them and help fortify their confidence in their own mathematical abilities. Somewhere along the way we realized that we weren't just directing summer programs each summer, we had, almost inadvertently, laid the groundwork for the creation of a mutually supportive network of female mathematicians,” she said. “We began consciously and diligently cultivating that network, which now numbers several hundred women at all stages of their mathematical careers from first-year undergraduate to senior researcher.”  She noted that the women within this network eagerly offer one another advice, support, and scientific collaborations and consultations. “Participation in this community has enriched our lives beyond description; mentoring, begun as an act of service, has evolved into friendships and deep personal bonds with hundreds of incredibly talented, brilliant female mathematicians all over the country,” Haunsperger said.

“The AWM is pleased to honor Deanna Haunsperger for her wonderful achievements and unwavering efforts over decades in the mentoring of undergraduate women in mathematics, in particular in attracting them into the study of mathematics and creating a thriving community that supports them throughout their mathematical careers,” the organization said in a released statement.