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Biostatistics joins UW partnership to diversify STEM graduate applicants

Biostatistics is one of four University of Washington departments heading up a new partnership with Math Alliance, an organization committed to supporting students from underrepresented (URM) and underserved communities in their pursuit of graduate degrees in mathematical and statistical sciences. Three departments in the College of Arts & Sciences — Applied Mathematics, Mathematics, and Statistics — will also lead the new UW Center Partnership.

Math Alliance helps students achieve their goals through mentoring and networking. More than 1,200 mentors from 380 colleges and universities currently participate in Math Alliance and, at the moment, UW has more mentors than any other institution.

“Math Alliance offers the opportunity for us to become mentors and help URM undergraduates plan for and succeed in graduate school. I jumped at the chance to join the partnership with the other three UW departments,” said Lurdes Inoue, chair of the Department of Biostatistics.

“Many of our faculty members have signed up to be mentors and some have already interacted with Math Alliance undergraduate students. Last year, a number of faculty, including myself, and one of our PhD students attended the Field of Dreams Conference, a major event sponsored by Math Alliance that helps connect students with mentors who offer career advice, etc.  We hope that with this new partnership, all UW programs will become more visible to Math Alliance fellows.”

Over the past few years the department, like the School of Public Health, has taken concrete steps and committed resources to promoting equity, diversity, and inclusion, and to implementing initiatives aimed at diversifying the community of students, faculty and staff within the department.

Engaging with potential applicants while they are still undergraduates, or even high school students, is critical to achieving this. Last summer, the department partnered with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Summer High School Internship program (SHIP), which is specifically designed for students from backgrounds underrepresented in biomedical science. Partnering with the Math Alliance is a logical next step in this effort.

 “It has been challenging to increase the diversity of our student body and this challenge stems from receiving very few applications from URM undergraduates. We hope that being a part of Math Alliance will increase the visibility of our field and our department resulting in more applications and more admitted URM students,” said Barbra Richardson, professor of biostatistics and chair of the department’s admissions committee.

Other programs and departments participating in the partnership include Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, Astronomy, Biomedical Information and Medical Education, CHOICE, economics, Mechanical Engineering, and Physics.

 “The fact that multiple departments decided to join us is very exciting because it will increase the visibility of the University of Washington and the many options undergraduates would have in applying to different programs that are welcoming diversity,” said Inoue.

Math Alliance also provides conferences, workshops, and programs to scholars. As part of the partnership, UW Statistics recently launched a pilot pre-application review service (PARS) initiative for PhD applicants. The program reviews and provides feedback on a prospective applicant's resume or curriculum vitae (CV), and statement of purpose. The process is open to all students applying to any graduate program in Statistics of Biostatistics, whether at UW or any other U.S. college or university.

- Deb Nelson, UW Biostatistics Communications

Students interested in pursuing a graduate degree in a field benefitting from a math undergraduate degree can get involved by talking to a Math Alliance mentor (if you already know one) or by emailing