In January of 2011 Tatiana Shubin came to Dave Auckly with a question — she had a sabbatical for the Fall of 2012 and was dreaming of spending it helping the Navajo in the four-corners region. She wondered if he had any contacts in the area. Tatiana had visited the Navajo Nation before and was deeply moved: the culture, the environment, the people and their living conditions reminded her of Kazakhstan, where she had lived as a child before leaving the Soviet Union. Remembering how the network of math circles in Russia and Kazakhstan had spurred her own interest in mathematics, she wanted to bring them to the Navajo nation.
Dave suggested that if she was going to spend half of a year in the area, they ought to use that time to create a lasting program for teachers and students in the Navajo Nation. The program would include mathematical visitors who would lead teacher workshops and special math circles at local schools.
To make this work it would take contacts in the community and money.
Other stars aligned to help the creation of the program. In 2009 the University of Utah received an NSF Noyce Fellowship program grant to develop a section of the Math for America teacher preparation/enhancement program to be directed by Hugo Rossi. From the onset, Hugo wished to include Navajo Teachers in the program. He even made contact with Henry Fowler from Diné college, however, there were not sufficient contacts to get something started. They planned to run a few workshops to attract teachers, and with this in mind obtained a supplement to the Noyce grant to support professional development in the Navajo Nation. Using these funds, the University of Utah organized teacher workshops in southern Utah in the summers of 2011 and 2012.
At roughly the time Dave was the associate director of the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute. One of the first outreach activities he organized was the initial Circle on the Road workshop in Tempe, AZ (2010). Matthias Kawski, Hugo Rossi and Mark Saul were co-organizers of this workshop. Matthias made a serious effort to advertise the associated Julia Robinson Math Festival across the Southwest. The White family in Ganado, AZ heard about the math festival and reached out to Matthias about attending. Matthias passed this along to Dave who used some of the conference travel funds to offset the cost of their travel down to the festival from the Navajo Nation.
Jennifer White was very helpful making introductions in the Navajo Community. In particular, she introduced Tatiana to Henry Fowler. Henry was in the mathematics department at Diné College. (Diné is the Navajo word for people.) Henry was (and still is) very enthusiastic about the project. He is also an ideal local contact for our program. He oversees the training of many pre-service teachers who ultimately end up teaching at Navajo schools, so he is able to recruit Navajo teachers and students. In addition, he is able to arrange space for math events at Diné College.
With these community contacts, the next step was raising funds. Dave started a conversation with Richard Alo, who was then a program officer at the National Science Foundation. After several conversations, it became apparent that the best mechanism for initial funding to the Navajo Nation Math Circles Project would be a supplement to an existing NSF grant. Shannon Marie Guerrero was the principle investigator of a Noyce grant through Northern Arizona University. She graciously agreed to let us submit a supplementary request to her grant to fund our program. This grant provided significant support to our program for the first three years.
In addition to this NSF funding, Dave was able to arrange a for a National Association of Math Circles
Math Circle grant for the program. Tatiana talked to the American Institute of Mathematics, the Educational Advancement Foundation, and Art of Problem Solving to raise additional funds.
With community contacts and funds the Navajo Nation Math Circles (NNMC) project was born in the Fall of 2012. During the Fall of 2012, Tatian led school-based math circles at five schools. In addition, she met with Dr. Fowler’s class for pre-service mathematics teachers each week. Thus the project began.
One of the first Mathematical Visitors to our program was Amanda Serenevy. Amanda is very energetic and is a wonderful math circle leader. Amanda formed the Riverbend Community Math Center in the Fall of 2006. Thus Amanda is one of the few people who run Math Circles as a full-time job. Amanda came out to the Navajo Nation in the Spring of 2013. She led several sessions on Mathematical Origami and Rational Tangles at Ganado, St. Michael’s, and Many Farms High Schools. She also led professional development sessions for teachers at Dine’ College over the course of one and a half days. She has continued to visit regularly and has been here for all of our Summer Math Camps.
After the student program started to roll, Hugo offered some of his Noyce funds so we could run teacher workshops in Arizona. Matthias Kawski has been a regular visitor/contributor to the program since the start.
Tatiana Shubin met Bob Klein at
an American Institute of Mathematics (AIM) “How to Run a Math Teachers’ Circle” workshop in Washington, D.C., in Summer 2012. Then, at a Circle on the Road in Puerto Rico in 2013, they met again, and this time with Dr. Henry Fowler. Upon hearing about the NNMC program, Bob, a native of Albuquerque instantly felt a desire to contribute to the project. In 2014, while at the Joint Math Meetings, Tatiana asked Bob Klein to join the NNMC as a co-director and to contribute to the summer session beginning in July 2014. Since that time, Bob has returned to the summer camp and led workshops/school visits in March 2015 and 2016.
For a while, Dave, Tatiana, Henry, Amanda, and Bob shared administrative duties for the project with Dave taking the lead on grant proposals and budgets. Later, the organization was changed so that Dave and Henry serve as co-directors, and Tatiana, Amanda, and Bob are some of the members of the NNMC advisory board.
More recently, the program has inspired similar projects. Dave is working with Jayadev Athreya and others to launch a mirror program in Washington state. Also, Bob, Tatiana, and Hugo have created the Alliance for Indigenous Math Circles
to extend the model to further locations.