Jan 29, 2023

Math Monday: Highlighting Black Mathematicians in the Classroom

This Wednesday marks the start of Black History Month. Get ready to celebrate with these profiles of amazing Black mathematicians. Plus - a catalog of enough profiles to run a Mathematician of the Week for the rest of the school year!


Dr. Kendra E Pleasant

Dr. Kendra Pleasant is an assistant professor at Morgan State University whose research focuses on combinatorics. Dr. Pleasant earned a PhD in mathematics from Howard University in 2017 at the age of 27.  

Read a short interview with Dr. Pleasant from Mathematically Gifted and Black.


Possible Discussion Questions:

  • What does Dr. Pleasant like about mathematics and research?
  • What are Dr. Pleasan’ts proudest accomplishments?
  • Dr. Pleasant says “Mathematics is a field where growth happens in the failure.” What does that mean? Do you agree - why or why not?
  • Initially, Dr. Pleasant pursued a career as an actuarial scientist. What is an actuary? [students may need to look it up!]


Dr. Aris Winger

Dr. Aris Winger is an assistant professor of mathematics at Georgia Gwinnett College. He co-hosts the podcast Mathematically Uncensored and co-authored the book Asked and Answered: Dialogues on Advocating for Students of Color in Mathematics, both in collaboration with Dr. Pamela Harris. 

Watch Dr. Winger introduce himself on MEET a Mathematician or read his essay in Mathematically Gifted & Black.

Possible Discussion Questions:

  • What role(s) did math play for Winger throughout his childhood and young adulthood?
  • Winger talks about the recognition and praise he received that encouraged him to pursue his interest in mathematics. Think about your hobbies and interests now. When have you been encouraged to pursue those interests? When have you been discouraged?
  • How does Winger apply his study of math to the real world?
  • What critique(s) does Winger make about the field of mathematics?
  • Winger talks about a moment he felt alone in the field of mathematics, then he met people who shared his perspective and interests, which “lit up the world for [him]”. Have you ever experienced a moment like that?


Dr. Viviene Malone Meyes

Dr. Meyes was a famous mathematician known for her scholarship, leadership, and anti-racist advocacy. She earned her PhD in mathematics in 1966, as the fifth Black women in the U.S. to receive a math PhD. She was also the first Black faculty member at Baylor University, a college which had previously denied her entry because she was Black. 

Share a slide from Dr. Kristopher Childs or read an in memoriam profile reprinted by Agnes Scott College.


Possible Discussion Questions:

  • What factors contributed to Dr. Meyes’ success?
  • In what ways did Dr. Meyes encounter anti-Blackness? In what ways did she fight back against it?
  • Dr. Meyes’ profile describes her interactions with one professor (unnamed, but known to be R.L. Moore) who would not allow her to enroll in his classes. What was the significance of their conversation about the civil rights demonstration?


Build a Mathematician of the Week Routine

Continue highlighting Black mathematicians year-round! Throughout the year, find ready-to-go profiles and discussion questions in previous posts and additional resources. These showcase more Black mathematicians as well as other mathematicians who have been historically and systemically excluded from the field. 

Setting up a weekly routine can be a small way to help students encounter mathematicians of all identities, see themselves reflected in mathematics, and expand their understanding of the field. 

These previous posts cover enough mathematicians for the whole semester!


Additional Resources

Check out these resources highlighting Black mathematicians. 

About the Author

Kathryn Dawson

Kathryn (she/her) is excited to join the NGPF team after 9 years of experience in education as a mentor, tutor, and special education teacher. She is a graduate of Cornell University with a degree in policy analysis and management and has a master's degree in education from Brooklyn College. Kathryn is looking forward to bringing her passion for accessibility and educational justice into curriculum design at NGPF. During her free time, Kathryn loves embarking on cooking projects, walking around her Seattle neighborhood with her partner and dog, or lounging in a hammock with a book.

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