Maura B. Mast, Ph.D, of the University of Massachusetts Boston, began her journey as the new dean of Fordham College at Rose Hill this past August.
Mast grew up in South Bend, Indiana. She completed her undergraduate work at Notre Dame University and majored in mathematics and anthropology. She attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
Afterward, she became a faculty member at the University of Iowa, participated in the National Foundation’s Science Fellowship at Northeastern University in Boston then taught at Wellesley College. Mast returned to Iowa where she was offered a tenure position, but instead she moved back to Boston to work at the University of Massachusetts Boston. There, Mast served as special assistant to the provost since 2013 and associate vice provost for undergraduate studies since 2009.
Mast is a noted mathematician and researcher with a focus of study in differential geometry.
The Fordham Ram sat down with Mast to discuss her new life in New York.
You have a very impressive background in mathematics. What inspired you to pursue mathematics?
“It was two things. The first was when I took calculus. I actually didn’t like mathematics that much until I took calculus in high school. Everyone thought I would be really good at math too because my dad was actually a math professor at Notre Dame. But I actually found math really hard. But when I took calculus in high school as a senior, I realized how amazing math could be. It was so different from any math I had done before and I really loved it. When I got to Notre Dame, they told me I could take this really interesting calculus course, theoretical calculous, but I had to be a math major. As a result, I registered with intent to declare a major in math to take the class. The class was so challenging, but so beautiful. After taking the class, I realized that math was my passion.”
Why did you decide to apply to Fordham?
“I really wanted to come back to Catholic higher education. Catholic education was not just my experience in college, but also growing up. Mission based education was a really important thing for my family. As I looked at what I was doing previously, I was proud but I knew something was missing. I believe it was the faith-based approach to education — being able to talk about faith and doubt in a university and how that connects to the intellectual work you’re doing. As a mathematician, I met every summer with a group of Catholic mathematicians called the Clavius Group. This group was started by the Jesuits of 50 years ago. It’s a group of Jesuits and lay people who come together for three weeks every summer and live in a dorm at a Jesuit university. While living together, they do mathematics during the day and go to mass together, share faith perspectives, eat dinner with one another and participate in other community building activities. That community approach and bringing together intellectual and spiritual themes is so awesome to me. I believe that Fordham is a great place to do this as well.”
What’s your general mission statement for the year?
“To make sure Fordham College of Rose Hill is the best college there is.”
You have an impressive background in mathematics – how do you hope to incorporate your background/passion for mathematics here at Fordham?
“As a mathematician, I feel very comfortable taking a data-based approach to my job. More generally, with my background, I am open to discussions with faculty across the college about the world of science in the college and how we can bring together different disciplines. I like to take a very interdisciplinary approach to the work I do – I was a math major but I was also an anthropology major as an undergrad. I think that openness I have I can convey that to the faculty and students.”
Do you hope to promote women in STEM?
“One of my passions is advocacy for women and girls in science and mathematics. I am a long time member of the association for women in mathematics. I am on the executive board and I’ve had national leadership in these areas. It’s crucial for the future of the country and for women.”
You are the first female dean at Rose Hill. How do you feel about this fact and how do you feel about the other female hires which occurred this past year?
“I’m so thrilled to be joining a great group of colleagues! That’s what’s really important to me. It’s funny to be the first woman dean. It wasn’t something I expected coming in, but as a woman of mathematics, I am used to being the first woman to do something. I’m very happy to be a role model.”
What’s your favorite color?
“Purple: because it’s a cool blend of two other beautiful colors, red and blue.”
What’s an interesting fact about your life/history?
“I have dual citizenship. My mother was from Ireland, so I got the citizenship automatically, and about 10 years ago I got my passport. I also have loads of cousins in Ireland, so it comes in handy when I travel to Europe!”
What message do you have for the Fordham students?
“I think that Fordham is an amazing place. I have been so happy and people have been so welcoming to me. I can only imagine what it must be like to be a student here — it must be great. This year, I am looking forward to getting to know the students, faculty and the college in general. I really welcome different types of conversation with all students. I am very excited to be their dean!”