Pomona College mathematics professor Ami Radunskaya, a longtime activist for greater student diversity in the field, has been elected as president of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), an organization that promotes opportunity for women pursuing studies in mathematics.
Radunskaya has taught at Pomona since 1994 and now holds several positions with organizations that seek to improve diversity in academia. In addition to being president-elect of AWM, she is co-director of Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) and president of the EDGE Foundation.
President of Pomona’s AWM student chapter Paula Burkhardt PO ‘16 said that Radunskaya, who sometimes goes by “Dr. Rad,” was a good selection to lead the national organization.
“Dr. Rad is very supportive—not just of women, but also other groups of people who are underrepresented in mathematics,” Burkhardt said. “I think she’s a great and inclusive person.”
While girls’ average math test scores are roughly equal to those of their male counterparts in junior high, the number of women studying math quickly decreases as students advance to higher levels of education. Radunskaya said the percentage of female math majors at Pomona is in the “low 20s,” and that figure drops even lower in postgraduate education.
Radunskaya said that while the math culture had become more inclusive since she was a student, women and minorities continue to be discouraged from pursuing the subject, and many drop the study of math as they advance in their education.
“They call it the leaky pipeline,” she said. “It’s leakier for women, and particularly women from underrepresented groups.”
Radunskaya will officially assume the AWM presidency next February and aims to work on three areas: improving ties with business, industry, and government to create better opportunities; strengthening ties with chapters in other countries; and collaborating with other organizations for underrepresented groups.
Adam Starr PO ’18, a Pomona math liaison, said that Radunskaya’s presence as a mentor and role model could help to address some of the causes of the field’s gender imbalance.
“She’s a great mathematician, and I think that having role models such as Dr. Rad will improve stereotypes,” Starr said. “Showing that women can make progress in mathematics is an important thing.”
Radunskaya herself encountered a great deal of discouragement as she pursued a career in math. While attending University of California, Berkeley, as an undergraduate, her adviser—one of the few female math professors on campus—was denied tenure in a decision that was later overturned after an outside group determined it was discriminatory.
The incident divided the community and prompted some male Berkeley professors to publicly argue that men were superior at math, but this opposition served as a source of inspiration for Radunskaya.
“It made me want to show them that they were wrong,” she said. “So it really gave me courage.”
With inequality of opportunity is still a problem more than twenty years later, Radunskaya now hopes to help make the path to a career in math a little easier for a new generation of students.
“My attitude was, I’m not going to let them stop me,” she said. “I don’t think everyone needs to have that attitude, and they shouldn’t.”