Newsletter #20.5     PFF over time

One drawback to the here's-what-just-happened format of this newsletter is that there is no way to follow a specific thread over time. In particular, news of the PFF has been so thoroughly mixed with news of departmental, regional and general serendipitous events that it has had no semblance of continuity. That's not good at all, because the PFF has had very much of a coherent existence, and has contributed a lot. So, since current conversations about matters educational tend to be along the intellectually stimulating lines of "When are your finals?...Ha! I've already graded mine!", I propose to take the opportunity to glue together the PFF bits and pieces and try to give you something of an overall picture.

I will start from scratch, since I strongly suspect that there are at least a few "PFWHAT?"s echoing out there. In spring of 1994, the Graduate School decided to apply to the Pew Charitable Foundation for a grant they had just announced which was called at the time Professors For the Future. The idea was that a large research university would work with surrounding two- and four-year colleges to improve the degree to which students emerging from the universityUs hallowed halls with a Ph.D. in hand would be prepared for more than simply the pursuit of yet more research. Betty Feetham and Dale Johnson, the deans spearheading this effort, decided to focus on four departments, and our visible interest in educational issues earned us one of those slots. (The other three went to English, Sociology and Zoology.) We conferred with people around the department, teamed up with Seattle University and Seattle Central Community College, wrote up our proposal and jointly crossed our fingers. By summer the word was out: the grant had changed its name to Preparing Future Faculty, but the mission as well as the acronym remained unaltered--and we had one.

After a brief period of "WOW! WONDERFUL!!! what?" , we settled down to the work of figuring out how to carry out the activities we had proposed. I haven't re-read the proposal recently (I'm not altogether sure I want to!) but I do know that a large proportion of the what we had proposed managed to get happened. The activities fell into several categories:

The centerpiece for us was the mentoring program. Each quarter of last year and this, three or four graduate students spent time on a regular basis working with a particular faculty member in a particular course at SU or SCCC. Some observed and had discussions only with their designated mentor, some got into discussions with several faculty members, some found other ways of involving themselves in the departments they were visiting, some even managed to teach a day or two. The key thing was that they were involved in teaching in a campus life distinctly different from UWUs and in a context completely free of reverberations in their research efforts. This year's PFF fellows had a slightly more manageable format than the first yearUs, because instead of giving them a (miniscule) stipend, we used the funding to arrange partial release time from TA duties.

That, as I say, was the centerpiece. On the other hand, one of our objectives was sustained change, and any impact specific to graduate students is by definition temporary in terms of the local community. That gave us a splendid excuse for another of our major efforts: a series of Pew Festive Fora, at which as much as possible of the combined mathematical community (SU, SCCC, and UW faculty and graduate students) gathered to hear somebody talk about something interesting and then to discuss it and anything else that came to hand over a follow-up dinner. David Clarke led off with a talk on alternative assessment in autumn of '94; David Pengelley and I finished up with a "Schauspiel" (in costumes, yet) about the Quadratic Reciprocity Theorem a few weeks ago, and in between were a number of other nifty events.

And then there were the field trips. Three of them. Originally they were in the Warfield van, but after a little contretemps outside of Issaquah we converted to University vanpool. We got to two meetings of the Washington Community College Mathematics group and one of the Northwest Council of Teachers of Mathematics (K-16 levels, that one). We attended lots of sessions, then spent meal times and travel time comparing notes on them and on lots of other topics (relevant or ir-). That came up to twenty-three people/trips, but that includes a certain multiplicity (like me for instance.)

Elsewhere on the this-will-get-us-nowhere-without-faculty- involvement front were The Dinners. Or maybe even are The Dinners--because by hook and/or by crook we really would like to continue them. The general idea was to promote faculty-graduate student conversations, and the tactic was to get together a group large enough to generate a lively collection of topics, but small enough not to splinter into subgroups, provide good food and a pleasant ambience (Marlai Thai was the venue of choice) and just cut loose. We found the optimal balance to be something like three graduate students and six or seven faculty members, the optimal beverage to be Thai beer, and the only thing guaranteed to fail to be any attempt to predict which way the conversational ball would roll. The collection of summaries of previous dinners that I sent out by way of conversation-launchers is beginning to get a bit bulky, but in all other respects this part felt much more like a beginning than a complete event. In particular, we had barely scratched the surface in terms of faculty members--not to mention students--that we really wanted to hear from. We shall see!

Other events were smaller scale, but numerous and excellent. There was a Job Forum set up last year by one graduate student and a Calculus Repository set up by another. There was the launching (and this seems almost certain to continue) of a series of talks by graduate students for the SU Math Club--mutual benefit if ever I met it! In addition, several graduate students were supported in traveling to pertinant conferences.

And finally, with a firmly future tense attached, we have a super event this summer. Timed to coordinate with Math Fest, there will be a PFF-supported gathering of graduate students from all of the research universities in the MER (Mathematics and Educational Reform) Forum. They will profit from the sessions at the Math Fest; they will profit even more from discussing the sessions with each other; and, as both of the graduate students who went along to MER Forum Workshops discovered, they (visitors and home team alike) will learn huge amounts about life on other campuses-- the "You get to do THAT?" aspects, the "You have to WHAT??" ones, and most helpfully the "Oh THAT's how youall manage that" ones. Autumn quarter should find the department knee-deep in the resulting creative ideas.

And that will take care of the twenty-fifth month of our two-year grant--one more demonstration that the Pew Charitable Foundation is lovely to work with!

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