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June 22, 2016 at 8:51 pm

At NSA Screening, Klein Ties Navajo Role in WWII to Need for Accessible Math

George Csicsery, Bob Klein and Tatiana Shubin with Navajo Math Circle students at NSA

George Csicsery, Bob Klein and Tatiana Shubin with Navajo Math Circle students at NSA. Photo by NSA.

Dr. Robert Klein, Associate Professor of Mathematics at Ohio University, made stops at the National Security Agency and the National Museum of Mathematics in June to screen Navajo Math Circles, a film by George Csicsery that features Klein’s work.

The NSA published an article about the screening titled “Happy Accidents, Shared Connections and the Beauty of Math.”

A few years ago, Glenn Lilly, Director of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) Mathematics Research Group, wound his way through a cavernous conference center searching for his designated location. Once he arrived, a soft voice asked, “Do you know about Navajo Math Circles?” He responded that he did not, and that simple question began a great relationship between two groups, NSA and the Navajo Math Circles project, each with a profound love of math.

On Monday, June 6, NSA hosted the owner of that soft voice, Dr. Tatiana Shubin, co-founder/co-director of the Navajo Nation Math Circles (NNMC) project. Dr. Shubin, a professor at San Jose State University, was accompanied by NNMC co-director Dr. Robert Klein of Ohio University, film producer/director George Csicsery, and six students/film subjects from NNMC math camps. The occasion was an event featuring a sneak peek of the film Navajo Math Circles, a documentary of the project. Prior to the film screening, NSA briefed the directors and students the agency’s contributions to the Nation’s security.

Math has a strong connection with Navajo culture, influencing everything from the beauty of textile patterns to how homes are constructed. The Navajo love of beauty and the students’ view of the beauty of math are core themes of the film. In Navajo Nation Math Circles, Navajo traditions of visual and tactile learning are used to solve math problems….

For NSA, the reward for cultivating projects such as NNMC is simple. As Mel, a retired NSA employee and advocate for the project, stated, “We want math to be accessible to everyone.”

Through agency support of this project, NSA continues its mission to foster diversity, by building a community of NSA mathematicians and the Navajo Nation. Dr. Klein eloquently summarized, “As NSA well knows, Native Americans helped tremendously during World War II and the future security of this nation could rest with the Navajo Nation. So we leave them behind at our own peril.”

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