What started as an idea to run a student panel to introduce early undergraduate students to research opportunities somehow turned into a full fledged conference with over 350 registrants.
I am shocked by what I was able to accomplish with my friends in organizing the Online Undergraduate Resource Fair for the Advancement in Academia of Marginalized Mathematicians (OURFA2M2). My co-organizers and I envisioned our conference to be an event where we could share resources we wish we knew about earlier or that have changed the course of our careers. We wanted mathematicians, especially those from marginalized backgrounds, to tell their stories and show their authenticity, their true selves at our event. We wanted to help students like us, really- immigrant students, female students, LGBTQ+ students, students with disabilities, students of color, students whose undergraduate departments never supported their research careers, students from low income backgrounds. I think we were honestly so scared that no one would show up, too. After all, we’ve all been “the only one” in various mathematical spaces at one point or another. We had no faculty oversight in our student run endeavor, choosing our own speakers to invite and spreading the word across our various networks. We somehow pulled it off.
But it actually felt… a bit anticlimactic when it was all over. I did not feel particularly elated, although I was proud of our efforts.
I don’t think it hit me until recently how happy I was about this conference. Lately, I have been reflecting on a particular milestone of our conference organizing experience: someone wrote about OURFA2M2 in their REU application and was even accepted to the program! I do not know if there were others who also mentioned our conference in their personal statements, but it feels like such a blessing to have significantly impacted at least one person’s summer research application.
We actually designed our conference programming to be used in this way. Our talks included crash courses from undergraduate research mentors covering a broad overview of their research field and examples of projects for undergraduate students. Some of the speakers are running research projects this summer, so we hoped that students would be able to write “I first learned about graph theory at a conference…” But I guess I did not expect someone to actually do it! It feels like our work finally paid off: our conference helped at least one student in a significant way.
The next milestone I briefly want to mention is from a few months ago, but something I wanted to reflect on in this same blog post nonetheless.
At the Joint Mathematics Meetings 2021, OURFA2M2 received an acknowledgement from a MAA Haimo Teaching Award presentation by Dr. Dave Kung. I think what stood out the most was that every name on that slide was someone who earned a PhD, except for us. It made me feel like our work was recognized. I’m always on the lookout for more shoutouts about our conference whenever I go to math events and talks, but I haven’t seen anything since then. I know that we don’t do this work expecting recognition, but it’s always nice to see it.
(If you’re reading this Dr. Kung, thank you so much for the shoutout!)
These two milestones make me feel excited that just maybe we’ll be able to create lasting change in the mathematics community.