AWM Service Award 2024

In 2012, AWM established its Service Award to recognize individuals for helping to promote and support women in mathematics through exceptional voluntary service to the Association for Women in Mathematics, a nonprofit organization that depends largely on the work of its volunteer members. These awards will be presented during the AWM Reception at the JMM in San Francisco on January 3, 2024, from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m.

The 2024 Service Award recipients are: Johanna Franklin, Associate Professor of Mathematics at Hofstra University, who is being recognized for her exceptional leadership as the coordinator of the AWM-MfA Student Essay Contest, as Chair of the Essay Contest Committee, and as Chair of the Education and Outreach Portfolio Committee;  and Karoline Pershell, Chief Operating Officer and Director of Strategy and Evaluation for Service Robotics & Technologies Labs, for the myriad of ways in which she served the AWM in her role as Executive Director, for the meaningful AWM programs she initiated and improved, for creating a warm, welcoming, and inclusive environment, and for continuing to generously share her time, her energy, her enthusiasm, and her wisdom as a volunteer.

Citation for Johanna Franklin

The AWM Student Essay Contest was inaugurated in 2001 with the purpose of increasing awareness of women’s ongoing contributions to the mathematical sciences. Students in three categories – Middle School, High School, and Undergraduate – submit biographies of contemporary women mathematicians and statisticians in academic, industrial, and government careers. The essays are based primarily on an interview with a woman currently working in a mathematical sciences career. In 2009, Math for America (MfA) joined AWM in co-sponsoring the contest. The AWM-MfA Essay Contest receives between 200 and 400 submissions each year.

As Essay Contest Organizer, Johanna is responsible for all aspects of the contest. She coordinates publicity for the contest, makes sure that the entry portal is ready to accept submissions, oversees the essay judging process, ensures that prizes are awarded and winning essays are published on and in the AWM Newsletter. Along the way, she communicates with the contest participants, interviewees, the AWM staff and volunteers, contest judges, and prize winners. She ensures that the MfA knows the value of their sponsorship by supplying a yearly report. Johanna is efficient, well-organized, fair-minded, wise, and good-humored.

The AWM-MfA Student Essay Contest is one of AWM’s most visible programs and Johanna’s efficient leadership has ensured its ongoing success. In addition to her work on this program, Johanna has also taken on the role of Chair of the AWM Education and Outreach Portfolio and represents that committee at AWM Executive Committee meetings. The Education and Outreach Portfolio oversees AWM programs involving education at all levels and programs primarily focused on outreach to the community, including to young people and K-12 students and to other organizations. As Chair, Johanna has created policies and procedures for working with minors, provided support to the existing programs and helped bring the new Chat With a Mathematician Program to the AWM.

Response from Franklin

I am honored and delighted to receive an AWM Service Award. To quote my alma mater’s motto, “my heart is in the work.” I am grateful to everyone who makes the Essay Contest such a joy to coordinate: my committee, first and foremost; the judges; the mathematicians who contribute their time to be interviewed; and, of course, the students who submit their essays to us. I am also grateful to the other members of the Education and Outreach Committee with whom I have worked on so many projects, and to Darla Kremer and Karoline Pershell, the Executive Directors who have been so supportive of me in so many ways. Finally, I would like to thank Heather Lewis, the previous Chair of the Essay Contest Committee, for her cheerfully given help and advice.

Citation for Karoline Pershell

AWM Hill Days were started in 2015 with a small group of dedicated participants going to Capitol Hill to advocate for legislation affecting underrepresented groups in mathematics. When Karoline joined the effort in 2016, she was able to bring her experience working at the State Department to help shape both the process and the presentation of information. She worked with the AWM Policy & Advocacy Committee to systematize the process by creating spreadsheets for tracking participants and schedules; documentation for training participants, tracking the legislation, and issues to be presented; and handouts for the meetings themselves. As the number of participants in the Hill Visits grew, this system was critical to the success of the events. She also proposed a subcommittee of the Policy & Advocacy Committee – the Government Advocacy Committee – to further establish these events. Pre-COVID, these bi-annual events drew a wide range of mathematicians (and fans of mathematicians!) from government, industry, and academia.

While it is very common to meet people and connect at AWM events, Karoline has an amazing ability to maintain those connections with people across time and space, helping to keep them anchored in the AWM network. She is able to track both people and organizational needs, and puts in the effort to introduce people to others she thinks they should know, and to invite people to participate and contribute to the AWM as a whole. When Karoline learned about the Notable Women in Computing card deck, she worked with then-President Ruth Haas to put together a rockstar team to produce the first EvenQuads Notable Women in Math deck, which is now in its second deck of four. When one AWM member suggested a t-shirt design to then-ED Karoline, she immediately invited that then-grad student to spearhead the whole design process. She then connected people who expressed interest in volunteering to run an actual store and online portal, and AWM now has an online store, which supports a small woman-owned t-shirt print shop, and provides high-quality shirts and onesies for all to show their support of AWM, not just those who happened to wander past the booth at a conference.

In 2020, Karoline co-organized an NSF-funded workshop called “Moving Towards Action,” a full-day event the day before the JMM which was geared towards providing “actionable information and process change plans” to departments interested in improving their culture and climate. As an end result of this workshop, the participants learned how to create welcoming environments with practical advice and information that participants could apply within their departments to drive cultural change. The successful workshop has been repeated at least once already and it is expected that the workshop will evolve into a program routinely offered at national meetings and beyond. The title “Moving Towards Action” could describe everything Karoline does: she has a phenomenal and impactful ability to recognize a need, refine the problem down to an atomic level, identify the actionable steps and skills needed to be taken to address them, find the most qualified people to resolve them, and, on top of that, convince those people that they are excited to participate. How much of this is because of her experience across government, industry, and academia, versus her innate mastery of humor and approachability, is irrelevant. She is able to bring people together, reinforce the welcoming and inclusive environment AWM strives for, and also get so many things done at the same time.

Karoline Pershell served as Executive Director of the AWM from 2018 — 2020. Her position was half time, but she gave 150%. Amongst many things, she oversaw the revamping of the AWM website, moved AWM’s files to a Google Drive for more transparency and flexibility, and transitioned the AWM to a new management company. Beyond the AWM, Karoline has been an Evaluation Coordinator for the Department of State as part of the AAAS Fellowship program, a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Hyderabad in India, and Mathematics Professor at the University of Tennessee, Martin, and at Qingdao University in China. She continues her service to AWM, by sharing her wisdom, humor, and empathy with the Policy & Advocacy Committee.

Response from Pershell

Thank you to the AWM community for allowing me to serve. My greatest joy has been in connecting individuals to the community, providing pathways for people to pursue their passions, and supporting people over unintended hurdles. A special thanks to Cymra Haskell and Ami Radunskaya who used their energy many years ago to help me navigate my own hurdles and inspired me to pass it forward.