Department Awarded Presidential Award

Prof. Judy Walker with President Clinton

Professor Judy Walker accepted the award on September 10th, 1998.

In 1998, the Department of Mathematics and Statistics was awarded The Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in recognition of its success in mentoring female graduate students.

Jim Lewis and Judy Walker (who spearheaded the nomination effort) traveled to Washington, D.C., in September 1998, to accept the award on behalf of the department and to participate with the other awardees in a two-day symposium titled "Mentoring for the 21st Century". The Presidential Award honors a decade-long effort by the Department, under Jim's leadership, to recruit and mentor women in mathematics. We began to see results of our efforts in 1994. In the six-year period from 1995 to 2000, 40% of the department's Ph.D.s (19 out of 47) went to women. 1997 was a particularly successful year, as six of 13 Ph.D.s were awarded to women. Our recent success stands in stark contrast with the 1980s, a decade in which the department did not award a Ph.D. to any woman. We have also defied the national odds: nationwide only 22% of Ph.D.s in the mathematical sciences are awarded to women. Our success with women in our graduate program is expected to continue, as currently 27 of 56 graduate assistants are women.

Picture of the Whitehouse

Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring

The department believes that this success stems from the following simple philosophy: If you create a positive, supportive atmosphere in which qualified people are expected to succeed, they will. In particular, we believe that the competitive and often cold environment which is far too common in graduate mathematics programs is especially detrimental to women. The creation of our more supportive environment has positively affected our male graduate students as well. In fact, while only 23 men were awarded Ph.D.s in the 1980s, 38 men earned their Ph.D.s in the 90s, 29 of them between 1994 and 1999.

The actual award ceremony was held in the Roosevelt Room of the White House immediately following a photo session with President Clinton in the Oval Office. The awardees were all quite excited to visit the White House and thrilled that the President was able to attend. There was actually some doubt as to whether the President might attend, given that he had not been able to make this ceremony in previous years. But indeed the President was able to attend this time, a fact which was not known until the day of the award ceremony. (This was particularly suprising given that the ceremony took place the day after the Starr Report was delivered to Congress!) The ceremony was quite impressive and attended by several important dignitaries (besides Judy and Jim, of course). At the photo shoot, Judy froze and forgot to look into the camera when shaking President Clinton's hand. Undaunted, she went up to the President afterwards and asked for another photo op! He graciously obliged and the result is the photograph you see here.

The award comes with a plaque, displayed in the department lounge along with our other awards, and $10,000. Part of this money was used to help support the Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics.