FIU Women in Math and Statistics Make Strides


From L to R: Svetlana Roudenko, Melissa De Jesus, Gia Azcoitia, Hakima Bessaih, Mymuna Monem, Atefeh Saiedi

The women students and faculty of the FIU Department of Mathematics and Statistics have made major accomplishments in the academic field.

Women make up less than 30% of people working in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). However, the students and faculty of the Math and Stats department are working to alleviate that.

A group of women students came together to form FIU’s Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM), a chapter of the larger national association of the same name. AWM is a non-profit organization with the intent to encourage young women to take interest in the field of mathematics. The chapter represents both graduate and undergraduate students; Gia Azcoitia and Melissa De Jesus, the president and vice president of the club, are respectively a senior double majoring in electrical engineering and applied mathematics and a third-year Ph.D. student majoring in applied mathematics. AWM’s mission is to address the lack of representation for women in the mathematics field and to promote opportunities in the field.

Women faculty have also been making strides in the department. Last year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded FIU $1.5 million in scholarships to aid mathematics students in completing their degrees. This led to the creation of the Joint Applied Math and Statistics Scholarship program (JAMS at FIU), led by Mathematics and Statistics Professor Svetlana Roudenko. The program, which consists of an all-female faculty team (Hakima Bessaih, Anna Maria Fino, Florence George, Sneh Gulati, Laura De Carli), works to recruit graduate and undergraduate students based on academic merit and financial need. This initiative helps give students from historically underrepresented groups opportunities that they might not normally have.

“I think the biggest accomplishment is the number of women senior professors we have at the department now – currently five total,” Roudenko says. “For example, it helps us attract more women graduate students to our PhD program; just this year, we were able to attract women students - 50% of new grad students in Spring 2023, and in the coming Fall we will have another cohort of women graduate students, which looks to be at least 75%.”

Another program to help out students is the Applied Mathematics REU, the department’s first ever Research Experience for Undergraduates Program. This program, also led by Roudenko, allows undergraduates to participate in research projects and gain experience, often providing opportunities for students from underrepresented groups, such as women and Hispanic Americans. This program is supported by both the National Science Foundation and the National Security Agency.

The department’s graduate program, currently led by Dr. Hakima Bessaih, is notable for having over 85% minority doctoral students, which is one of the largest percentage-wise minority Ph.D. math programs in the US. Despite only being four years old, this program has already given many great opportunities to students, including placements into federal research institutes, internships with national labs, and invitations to national conferences and workshops.

Visibility is an important factor when promoting diversity and equal opportunities in academia. Roudenko stresses that is important to focus on “discussing and educating about diversity, not only within the group of minorities or group of women colleagues, but actually educating the entire population […] we need to showcase women representation and accomplishments in general conferences, so that the general audience can also understand that women can be superb researchers and experts.”

With all these accomplishments, the department shows no signs of stopping. Roudenko discusses plans to increase opportunities for women in the department in the future:

“The first item is to try to increase the representation of women students pursuing math and stats majors and women students who would like to have a graduate degree. Forming an AWM Chapter and having more women senior faculty helps with that. We also have been requesting for more postdoc and junior faculty positions, and we definitely hope that those will also increase female representation in Math & Stats. We also plan to do various workshops and summer programs, which are geared towards attracting more women students.”

The Department of Mathematics and Statistics is proud of all their students have achieved. Some of the student accomplishments include:

  • Melissa De Jesus, doctoral student: Internship at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab for Summer 2023.
  • Gia Azcoitia, undergraduate student: Photonics Lab program at Boston University for Summer 2023.
  • Iryna Petrenko, doctoral student: International conference for Nonlinear PDE in Brazil in November 2022, and Math-Physics Research Group at the University of Bourgogne, Dijon, France, in February 2023.
  • Mymuna Monem, doctoral student: Annual Mini-Conference in Statistics on March 31, 2023.

Congratulations to all for their achievements!