Katherine Johnson Family Gives Naming Permission to Emerging Math Institute

by | Apr 6, 2022

The Katherine G. Johnson Mathematics Teacher Training Institute (MTTI) planning committee, a collaborative effort between Southern Initiative Algebra Project (SIAP) and faculty and staff from the University of the District of Columbia (UDC), is excited to announce they have obtained formal permission from the family of Katherine Johnson to name their emerging Math Training Institute after her. Johnson, one of the first Black female NASA scientists whose brilliance with numbers and groundbreaking scientific achievement has often been overlooked, was the subject of the 2016 biopic Hidden Figures which helped shed national light on the severe issue of under-representation and historical whitewashing in STEM. The permission to use her name marks a symbolic victory for the Institute as it wraps up its planning phase.

Through a National Science Foundation planning grant, a design team consisting of SIAP staff, UDC administrative staff and faculty, D.C. Public Schools and D.C. Charter Schools representatives, as well as teachers from Anacostia and Woodrow Wilson High Schools have planned the initial proposal for MTTI. MTTI is part Developing America’s Workforce Nucleus (DAWN), strategy in UDC’s strategic plan, Equity Imperative.

The stated goal of MTTI is to “train in-service and pre-service teachers, university and community college faculty, and student mentors to accelerate mathematics achievement of PK-16 students who score in the bottom quartile on standardized

mathematics tests, or whose prior mathematics attainment hinders their success in higher-level STEM coursework and careers.”

The planning stage saw the use of SIAP’s PK-16 Model for education that includes four anchor components —Professional Development for Educators; Youth Leadership Development; Community Engagement/Ecosystem Transformation; and Capacity Building. A fifth component was added for Research, recognizing the importance of engaging and supporting HBCU faculty in exploring, investigating, and developing new practices that open the STEM enterprise to currently underserved students. The research pillar aims to provide residency opportunities to HBCU faculty so that they may take a sabbatical for research purposes, thus enabling a greater range of voices to impact current structures within the research community.

As part of the initiative, the planning work relied on SIAP’s help in piloting programs—such as teacher professional development work—utilizing previous successful PD work across the country. This previous PD work used a mathematics learning pedagogy that embraced the cultural and social experiences of the target students of the initiative and will become part of the design and structure of MTTI.

The planning committee encountered its first major obstacle when the COVID-19 pandemic forced all work on MTTI to become virtual. It is noted that, without much experience or notice, SIAP was able to shift from piloting in-person programs to virtual ones. Despite this obstacle, the piloted programs, as well as the planning and design committee work, is largely considered to be a success. This is just the first step, however, for the Katherine G. Johnson Mathematics Teacher Training Institute as they hope to secure more funding devoted to actually building the program.

SIAP’s work with 5 HBCUs including UDC will also provide an opportunity for the MTTI to be a model for similar institutes in other HBCU communities facing similar problems of students not having the necessary support and resources to learn the mathematics that would allow them to participate in STEM careers.

Of the work, UDC president Ronald Mason, Jr., J.D., said, “The SIAP based MTTI model understands that an ecosystem supportive of learning, and the voices of practitioners, are essential elements of developing an Institute to train future mathematics teachers and producing STEM graduates.”

A press release will come from the planning team at a later date, and in the meantime, you can learn more about the initiative from their project overview document here.

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