Dr. Danielle Amethyst Brake receives UW System Poorman Award for LGBTQ+ advocacy

| Denise Olson

Danielle Brake

Dr. Danielle Amethyst Brake

Dr. Danielle Amethyst Brake, assistant professor of mathematics, is the UW-Eau Claire recipient of the UW System's 2019 Dr. P.B. Poorman Award for Outstanding Achievement on Behalf of LGBTQ+ People. This annual award is presented to one individual from each UW System campus. This year's recipients will be honored at a UW System Board of Regents event Nov. 7 in Madison.

The Dr. P.B. Poorman Award is given to LGBTQ+ people or their allies who have helped to create a safer and more inclusive climate for LGBTQ+ people on UW System campuses. The award was established to honor the legacy of Dr. Paula B. Poorman, a former faculty member at UW-Whitewater, who died in 2007 and who dedicated her life to improving the lives of LGBTQ+ people.

Brake earned her bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Colorado State University in her hometown of Fort Collins. After postdoctoral research and teaching positions at North Carolina State University and the University of Notre Dame, she joined the UW-Eau Claire faculty in 2017. Brake teaches undergraduate courses in mathematics and statistics, including calculus and discrete mathematics, and also teaches a graduate-level course called "Programming for Data Science."

Brake served as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Computational and Experimental Research in Mathematics at Brown University in fall 2018 for a semesterlong program on nonlinear algebra, and returned to Brown this fall to participate in a program called "Illustrating Mathematics."

As an out trans woman, Brake's life itself serves as a role model, and the work she does to support students and faculty amplifies that, her nominators said. A few examples of her ongoing support and outreach roles are:

  • Queer and Trans Action Committee member.
  • Participating in the Math Club and the Women and Gender Minorities in STEM Club.
  • Assisted in creating the Campus Closet, which provides free access to professional attire for students.
  • Interview subject in campus-created documentary film titled "Queering Campus."
  • Mentor for the Q'nnect program connecting first-year students with queer faculty and students.

"As a recipient of the Poorman Award, I feel honored and empowered," Brake said. "I clearly am making a difference at UW-Eau Claire, just by being here as my true self. I know that students look to me as a role model for being a visibly queer professional, specifically in the sciences. This award will prompt me to be more devoted to effective service activities at UW-Eau Claire, and to continue showing my true colors in my campus life."

Jodi Thesing-Ritter, executive director for equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at UW-Eau Claire, spoke to the ways in which Brake integrates her teaching, advocacy work and her personal focus to further efforts bettering the lives of LGBTQ+ campus members.

"In her classes and on campus at large, she shares of her experiences freely and openly, hoping to act as a model and resource for all students, particularly those from the LGBTQIA+ community," Thesing-Ritter said. 

Brake plans to continue finding the most effective ways to contribute to campus strides in EDI, and knows that there is more work to do on both the local and statewide scales.

"My main intent as a queer professor of mathematics at UW-Eau Claire is to be authentic and inspirational," Brake said. "I look forward to spring service on the UW System Women and Science Program advisory board. On this campus, I am thrilled that we continue to make progress on converting unnecessarily gendered bathrooms into gender-neutral facilities. Other goals would be see increased student and maybe even faculty access to our wonderful counseling staff, and expansion of insurance benefits to include coverage for procedures necessary for gender transition."

"I benefit directly from the activism of our allies, both in policy and government, and in daily life," she said. "I strive in turn to make people aware of how free we can be, if we let ourselves, and let others be themselves."  

Top photo caption: Dr. Danielle Amethyst Brake's mathematical passion is numerical algebraic geometry, which shows prominently in her 3D-printed artwork in the form of singular algebraic surfaces.