December 2015 ArticlesBriefs

Arts and Sciences: Getting the EDGE

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Ziva Myer, Ph.D. ’17, had already been accepted to Bryn Mawr’s graduate program in mathematics in 2011 when her undergraduate thesis advisor encouraged her to apply to Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE). That program is designed to support women and minority students in completion of graduate programs in the mathematical sciences and become leaders in the field.

“Isn’t that redundant?” Myer thought. Bryn Mawr’s small department already offered the kind of supportive environment characteristic of a women’s college.

But halfway through EDGE’s month-long program, Myer realized how thankful she was that she had applied. Her “aha” moment came when prior participants talked to the program’s latest class of women who were about to embark on new academic journeys.

“That’s when it clicked for me, seeing the camaraderie,” she says. “That was when I realized that EDGE is more than just the homework problems that I was doing. It really is a beautiful network of people.”

The program has been so helpful that Myer served as a mentor this past summer. She is the only Bryn Mawr College graduate student who was both an EDGE participant and  mentor. Cathleen Battiste Presutti Ph.D. ’80 was an EDGE mentor in 1999 and 2000.

“I wanted to give back to this program that I feel gave me a lot and will continue to support me,” Myer says.

Mathematics is still a male-dominated field, she explains, and far too many math Ph.D. programs don’t provide a supportive environment for women.

EDGE came about in 1998, when two women in the field—Rhonda Hughes, a now-retired Bryn Mawr mathematics professor, and Sylvia Bozeman, a mathematics professor emeritus from Spelman College—decided to address that problem.

The program they created aims to strengthen the ability of women and women of color to complete Ph.D. programs in the mathematical sciences successfully and to place more women in visible leadership roles in the mathematics community. Bryn Mawr College is one of eight organizations sponsoring the program, which is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation.

The program comprises a four-week summer boot camp at different colleges around the country. The pace and rigor resemble that of graduate school, and faculty and advanced graduate student mentors address the academic, personal, and cultural challenges of doctoral programs and the professional world. Along with the summer session, EDGE supports an annual conference, travel for research collaborations and presenting research, and other mentoring activities.

The professors started EDGE because they saw their most talented students dropping out of math graduate programs within their first year, says Ami Radunskaya, a Pomona College math professor who has been an EDGE faculty member since its inception and is now co-director.

Every year, three women graduate students serve as mentors to EDGE participants. They serve as role models, dispense advice, and provide a critical sense of belonging and community to incoming students. “That community is really important at all stages,” Radunskaya says.  

Last June, Myer served as a mentor at Howard University, where she ran problem sessions, arranged weekly dinners for the participants, and talked about the importance of balancing self-care, a social life, and school. During the academic year, she continues to be available to discuss any academic or personal struggles the women have.

“It’s helpful to have people who clearly remember what it’s like to be in their first year of grad school,” she says. “I remember the nerves I had before my first year. I wanted to let them know that you get through all that and to share my experiences both mathematically and personally.”

As a mentor, Myer benefitted in a different way as well, getting advice for negotiating post-doctoral fellowships and discussing career paths with instructors.

“We all doubt ourselves,” Myer says. “I feel that women, especially, have a lot of self doubt. Countless past participants have told me that EDGE gave them the strength and confidence to continue in their graduate programs. I often hear, ‘When I was at my roughest point, I called someone from EDGE, and they told me to keep up with it.’”


Myer (bottom row all the way on the right) with the 2015 EDGE participants and mentors. Also pictured is Orsola Capovilla-Searle ’15, a 2015 participant, pictured in the top row all the way on the left.