ICTCM16: It’s not just about math, it’s about showing up

Young woman giving a presentation in a conference side view

Proposals in. Speakers booked. Boxes packed. 949 registrations later and there we were, live in Atlanta and virtually across the country to do what we have done for the past 28 years, but differently, and on a more extensive scale than ever.  

At the 28th annual International Conference on Technology in Collegiate Mathematics (ICTCM), we descended upon the warm, friendly, southern city of Atlanta, Georgia to realize the conference’s charter – enhance math instruction through educational technology. Sweet tea, shrimp and grits, and banana pudding never tasted so good. Fueled by Atlanta’s bounty, my mission was obvious:  meet as many educators and students as possible, learn from them, and oversee the program I had helped develop with my team over the last year (Executive Steering Committee, Program Committee, Co-chairs and Host School, Clayton State University, and internal Pearson staff). Who knew I would depart ICTCM16 feeling a greater sense of mission as a professional, a parent, and an essential contributor to the world of education.

ICTCM16 by the numbersThe camaraderie and networking within the ICTCM mathematics and statistics community is a well-known benefit for attendees; many instructors attend to absorb, learn, contribute, and depart (year-after-year) energized to implement what they’ve learned. Sharon Sledge, professor of mathematics at San Jacinto College, summed it up, “ICTCM is the conference where teachers go to be students and students come to be teachers. There is so much to be learned, certainly at the official presentations but also through the informal connections made with other participants. The receptions, breaks, Pi Day Party, and talking between sessions with colleagues provide a wealth of new ideas for professional growth. I loved hearing the undergraduate and graduate students talk about their projects at the poster session, and share time with them at the Georgia Tech Robotics Lab. They have so many great ideas!”

Prior to the keynote addresses, we recognized and thanked our host-school Clayton State University, host-school chairs, Lila Roberts and Scott Bailey, and introduced CSU’s President, Dr. Tim Hynes. Dr. Hynes talked about his pride in supporting ICTCM, appreciated the partnership with Pearson, and encouraged everyone with highlights of new innovations within the study of mathematics and the implications upon industries and technologies of the future.

This year’s keynote speaker series, Diversity and Achievement in STEM, exceeded my expectations. I knew our chosen speakers would be impactful.  What I didn’t know was how much they would personally affect my disposition. As each speaker unpacked the issues facing STEM education—stereotyping, mathematical literacy, mindset—I became uncomfortable with the reality and was anxious for solutions. I wanted a plan. The journey we took as each speaker offered solutions helped me—and I hope others—find that plan.

On the first morning, Dr. Talithia Williams, statistician, and associate professor at Harvey Mudd College, kicked off the keynote series with Addressing the Achievement Gap in STEM. With data she revealed the #1 obstacle holding students back from STEM education and ultimately STEM careers, poverty. She asserted that mindset has everything to do with success, and stated,  “success in mathematics inherently forces a growth mindset.” She also showed how technology with mathematics mitigates the gap.

In the afternoon, Dr. Gary Rockswold of Minnesota State University demonstrated the importance of inclusivity during his address, Can Mathematics Be More Inclusive? Dr. Rockswold said, “By 2020 there will be 1.4 million unfilled jobs in STEM and we [the United States] will be able to fill only 400,000 of them.” He explained further, “between 2003 and 2009, 48 percent of students pursuing a STEM field switched to another major or dropped out often because of math.”

The next morning Mona Akmal, vice president of store technology at Zulily, heightened everything Dr. Williams and Dr. Rockswold had previously talked about. Her presentation, Diversity in STEM: An Industry Perspective, is where academia met industry. Mona shared how women and minorities lack substantial presence in STEM and how eye-opening that’s been for her during her career so far. Then Mona said two words that solidified a solution:  Show Up.

If you are a female, an African American, a minority of any kind, show up. Keep moving forward. Showing up has everything to do with having presence, a voice, passion and humanity, and compassion for others. Showing up makes you a leader. If you want diversity in STEM, hire diversity in STEM. Act. If you want to help fix the achievement gap, compliment and motivate others, and don’t forget about building a positive mindset. It’s up to us to make this achievement gap a thing of the past.

Reducing the achievement gap in STEM, and making mathematics more inclusive isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s up to us to change it. “We” are the plan. “We” are the path to making a better future in mathematics and STEM education. This means all educators, all industry contributors, and all students. “Show up” was aptly defined as perseverance.  

With the planning of ICTCM17 commencing in just two weeks, this spirited and at times uncomfortable discussion of diversity and achievement in STEM will remain a component of ICTCMs to come. ICTCM 2017 is heading to Chicago March 9-12.  Join us. Be present. Lend your voice. Demonstrate passion, humanity, and compassion. And, most importantly…Show Up!