Acclaimed professor lectures on women in mathematics

By Annie Giffels | 3/1/18 1:24am

Mosaic Lecture RGB 05
GVL/Hannah Zajac— Dr. Deanna Haunsperger gives a lecture on her lessons learned as a woman mathematician in Henry Hall on Tuesday 27 Feb 2017.
by Hannah Zajac / The Lanthorn

These days, most people understand that women can do anything a man can do. Until quite recently, however, this statement was not all that clear to many people, especially when it came to the study of mathematics. 

On Tuesday, Feb. 27, in Loutit Lecture Hall, Deanna Haunsperger came to deliver the fifth annual installment of the Mosaic Lecture Series at Grand Valley State University. Her speech, titled “Making Connections: Lessons Learned From Women Mathematicians,” told stories of different women who have made massive impacts in the world of mathematics. 

The Mosaic Lecture Series is an annual lecture given by a member of an underrepresented group. The purpose of these lectures is to celebrate the growing diversity within the field of mathematics. These lectures, only an hour long, are open to students, faculty, staff and other members of the community. 

Haunsperger’s speech began with a brief background of her life and her own accomplishments. As a professor of mathematics at Carleton College and the president of the Mathematical Association of America, Haunsperger is no stranger to the long and hard fight for equal representation in mathematics. 

“I am the fifth female president of the MAA,” Haunsperger said proudly. 

Throughout her career in mathematics, Haunsperger has worked tirelessly for equal representation of women in the field. 

“In high school, I did not have any female math teachers, and it was the same experience in my undergraduate college,” she said. “When I arrived at Northwestern University for my graduate studies, there were 40 professors. Two of them were women.”

It was for these reasons that Haunsperger and her husband created the Carleton Summer Mathematics Program. This program, started in 1995, is a month-long enrichment program dedicated to women interested in furthering their careers in mathematics. 

“When we started this program, many of our students had never even had a female math professor,” Haunsperger said. “Now, we are seeing change. Of the 343 female undergraduates that participated in this program, 109 hold Ph.D.s in mathematical sciences.”

The lecture also consisted of an in-depth history of the lives of one of Haunsperger’s greatest role models.

“I first met Grace when I was in high school,” Haunsperger mentioned briefly at the very beginning of her lecture. “I wasn’t looking for a role model.”

It wasn't until after her introduction that she explained who Grace was and what she really meant to her. Haunsperger went through the details and accomplishments of celebrated mathematician Grace Chisholm, a pioneer in the representation of women in mathematics in the early 20th century. 

“She’s kind of an amazing woman,” Haunsperger said. “She was the first woman to get a Ph.D. in Germany.”

Attendees of this event were allowed to speak with Haunsperger after the event. Among the crowd of listeners were students, faculty members and more. Maddi Miller, a junior at GVSU studying math, felt empowered after the lecture. 

“I’m so grateful to have the support that I have as a woman in mathematics,” she said. “I know that my work will never be discredited because of my gender.” 

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