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Nate Brown, professor of mathematics

Penn State professor, Nobel laureate to present on inclusive STEM teaching

UC Santa Cruz to host remote mini-symposium, 'STEM Educational Equity and Design'
25 October 2021

Penn State Professor of Mathematics Nate Brown and Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, Stanford University professor of physics and education and author of “Improving How Universities Teach Science,” will present a remote mini-symposium, co-hosted by UC Santa Cruz’s Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning (CITL) and Division of Physical & Biological Sciences, titled “STEM Educational Equity and Design.”

The symposium will take place from 1-2:50 p.m. EDT on Friday, Oct. 29, via Zoom (registration required).

Brown will present on educational equity from 1:05-1:55 p.m., and Wieman will present on STEM education reform from 2-2:50 p.m.

Brown has been a prominent advocate of social justice in the context of STEM education — through advocacy, education, research, and outreach — through his leadership in the STEM Diversity Lab in the Penn State Eberly College of Science.

“Nate Brown’s work is making important strides towards overcoming biases and barriers to educational equity, and it challenges us to make tangible and measurable change in STEM education,” said Tracy Langkilde, Verne M. Willaman Dean of the Eberly College of Science. “Presenting alongside Dr. Carl Wieman, a prominent leader in this field, is an extraordinary recognition of the impact Nate is making in this area.”

After getting involved with Penn State’s Millennium Scholars Program, which supports a diverse group of high-achieving undergraduate STEM students, Brown recently shifted his research from theoretical mathematics to focus on STEM education.

“My research shifted from math to social justice after years of wrestling with an uncomfortable truth: Math faculty like me can be a major barrier to diversifying STEM fields,” he said. “To be part of the solution we must learn about people with different lived experiences, try to walk a mile in their shoes, then critically examine everything we’ve been taught about teaching and mentoring.”

Brown is particularly interested in what he calls the “Math People Myth” — a pervasive and damaging view that one’s math ability is essentially fixed at birth.

“When it comes to math, many people have what social psychologists call a fixed mindset. That is, they believe we come in two types: You’re either a “math person” or you’re not,” he said. “I held this view for most of my career, but now I see how unscientific and damaging it is. Math is a skill — to be learned — not a trait that you’re born with or without.”

Brown’s research at the STEM Diversity Lab also includes documenting differential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on undergraduate STEM students by race/ethnicity, sex, and socioeconomic status; developing a valid and reliable measure of “inclusive instructor behaviors” that influence whether students believe they can succeed in math and if they feel like they belong in math; and related studies, both qualitative and quantitative, on differential impacts of mathematicians’ beliefs and behaviors on women and students of color.

Registration and attendance

Attendees will be provided a Zoom link to attend the mini-symposium upon registration.