The Department of Mathematics at California State University Northridge (CSUN) is the 2016 recipient of the AMS Award for an Exemplary Program or Achievement in a Mathematics Department. The CSUN department is honored for its creation of the PUMP program (Preparing Undergraduates through Mentoring towards PhDs) and its successor, the CSU Alliance for PUMP, which encompasses other campuses in the California State University system.
Aloysius Helminck of North Carolina State University, who served as chair of the award selection committee, said, "The PUMP program has a tremendous impact on getting and keeping students from underrepresented groups in mathematics. The program started at CSUN and now includes 10 California State University campuses. PUMP takes students early in their college careers and gives them a summer boot camp in math, followed by research opportunities in the academic year. Students receive mentoring and are connected to the broader mathematical community by attending conferences. Most of them continue to graduate programs. The success of PUMP is due in large measure to the vision and dedication of its leadership. The program is highly deserving of this prestigious award."
Based in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles County, CSUN is largely a commuter campus, with more than 40,000 students, around half of them low-income and around 40 percent Hispanic. Many CSUN students work part-time or even full-time, and many are the first in their families to attend college. With a grant from the National Science Foundation, the CSUN math department started PUMP in 2005, with the goal of preparing students for PhD programs in the mathematical sciences. Based on its success at CSUN, PUMP received a new grant from the NSF in 2013 to establish the CSU Alliance for PUMP, which includes a total of 10 campuses across the CalState system (Channel Islands, Dominguez Hills, Fresno, Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Pomona, San Marcos, and San Bernardino).
The CSUN mathematics department developed a highly effective structure for PUMP. One of the key elements is the PUMP Summer Institute, which pays stipends to sophomore and junior students to attend a four-week program of intensive, rigorous courses in linear algebra and analysis. Those areas were chosen because they are fundamental to any specialization the students might choose in graduate school. Working together in the institute forges long-lasting bonds among the students and greatly increases their motivation and confidence.
The Summer Institute also provides students with information about how to apply to and succeed in a doctoral program and about the many career options open to them through earning an advanced degree in the mathematical sciences.
Another key element of PUMP is its undergraduate research projects. These take place during the academic year, with PUMP providing modest financial support to the faculty and students involved. Undergraduate research has now become an integral part of the CSUN mathematics department, and this effect is now spreading to the other institutions in the CSU Alliance for PUMP. The activity fosters closer engagement between faculty and students, thereby leading naturally to better mentoring. Students gain experience in presenting their work in the PUMP Symposium, which brings together PUMP students from across the CSU Alliance.
PUMP systematically gets students to apply for off-campus opportunities, such as the many Research Experiences for Undergraduates programs that take place in various locations across the United States. It also provides support for students to attend regional and national conferences.
PUMP has had a significant impact. Over the past decade, more than 50 CSUN math majors enrolled in PhD programs, many of them in top-quality institutions. Prior to PUMP, the number of CSUN mathematics students continuing to doctoral programs was minuscule. The PUMP students are succeeding in their graduate studies, with very little attrition. And some of them are performing at top levels: Three PUMP students received NSF Graduate Fellowships, and one received an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship. Expectations are high that PUMP will produce similar results across the CSU Alliance.
What PUMP has done at CSUN, and is now spreading through the CSU Alliance, is to foster a "doctoral culture" in an undergraduate institution. PUMP students thrive in this culture, which provides a structure and setting where their knowledge and aspirations can blossom.
The official announcement of this award, including the selection committee's citation, is available from the AMS Public Awareness Office and will appear in the May 2016 issue of the Notices of the AMS, which will be available in the last week of April.
Find out more about this and other AMS awards at http://www.ams.org/profession/prizes-awards/ams-awards/department-award.