Some of the contributions and achievements of black female mathematicians — and women in science, technology, engineering and math careers more broadly — were highlighted on the big screen with the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures.”

Photo of Suzanne Weekes
Suzanne Weekes

Despite the film’s success, women of color are still significantly underrepresented in STEM fields.

According to the National Science Foundation, few women and even fewer African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans complete doctoral degrees in mathematics in the United States. Although black, Hispanic/Latino and Native American people represent one quarter of the U.S. population, they have earned less than 5 percent of the doctorate degrees in the mathematical sciences.

In this year’s Marjorie Lee Browne Colloquium, hosted by LSA’s Department of Mathematics, Suzanne L. Weekes, professor of mathematical sciences at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, will deliver a lecture titled, “Taking Your Place: Making More Space.”

Weekes’ talk will focus on creating pathways to ensure that a more diverse generation of young people, with a diverse range of interests, take their places in mathematics communities.

“Fundamentally, we all have a right to be who we want to be,” Weekes said. “Despite what the stereotype of a mathematician is, if you want to do math or science, take your place. Follow your passion and do what you need to do to make that happen.”

Weekes also noted that those within the industry have a responsibility to shed light on diversity and create environments that are welcoming to fresh ideas, new and different perspectives, new energies, and new skills.

“We have to be inward looking at how we’re operating to make sure we are welcoming and we are inclusive,” she said. “We can talk about diversity but we also have to create spaces where people feel comfortable and where they can succeed.”

Weekes earned a Ph.D. in mathematics and scientific computing from the University of Michigan in 1995. Forty-five years before Weekes earned her degree, Marjorie Lee Browne was the first African-American woman to come through the doctoral program in mathematics at U-M.

The colloquium will take place at 4 p.m. Jan. 21 in 1360 East Hall.

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