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Black History Month
2017 Honoree

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Sylvia Bozeman

Sylvia Bozeman

Professor of Mathematics (Retired) Spelman College

Co-founder Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) Program

I grew up on a small farm in Camp Hill, Alabama, with my four siblings. My elementary school education took place in a one-room school house in my community. Although my love of mathematics was passed down from my mother, both of my parents instilled in me a love of learning and a concern for the education of others.

Later, at Edward Bell High School, the teachers/counselors demanded my best and were committed to helping every student cultivate his/her full potential. For example, my senior high school mathematics teacher voluntarily taught trigonometry during the evenings and filled our study hall period with independent reading in solid geometry so that we would be prepared for success at the college level. It was at Alabama A&M University (then College) that I was given a work-study job of providing computational support to a physicist, one who acknowledged my work on his publication and then made me a teaching assistant in his summer science program for high school students. It was these experiences, and similar support and encouragement from so many faculty and administrators during my high school and college years, that influenced me to become a mathematician who loves research and an educator who believes that there is no limit to what students can achieve if they are encouraged and supported.

I am very proud of all the students that I have taught, supervised in research or summer programs, or mentored over my 35-plus years as a faculty member at Spelman College, a place that supported me through enough different roles and opportunities that I enjoyed going to work every day. It was in 1998 that I collaborated with Rhonda Hughes to create a transition and mentoring program for women entering graduate school in the mathematical sciences, named Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE). I am very proud that this idea has been sustained because of the impact of the EDGE Program on the success of women participants and the resulting enhancement of professional collaborations among women. I consider this a part of my contribution to the mathematics and scientific communities.

In my personal life, I was truly blessed to marry my college calculus classmate, Robert E. Bozeman, and watch him become the first African American to earn the PhD. degree in mathematics at Vanderbilt University. In turn, I had his support, along with our two young children, as I earned the Ph.D. at Emory University. I am most proud that with the help of family and community, and the grace of God, our two children now have their own families and careers.

My advice to younger people is to find mentors in both your professional and personal realms—different mentors for different aspects of your life. Listen to the advice of others, filter it and use what you can. If you choose a career as an educator you will need to become comfortable with delayed gratification and satisfied with just knowing that you did your best.