Ask Mubina Chunara how to solve a high school algebra equation and chances are she will come up with the solution lickety-split.
But ask the 15-year-old Brampton student about the range of career choices she might have as a math major and the answers haven’t always come as easily.
It wasn’t until Mubina spent a girls-only weekend at University of Waterloo, hosted by a team of enthusiastic female math graduates, that the possibilities multiplied.
Math degree is the ticket
Where can a math degree lead? There are too many permutations and combinations to list, says Fiona Dunbar of University of Waterloo.
Dunbar, director of the annual Think About Math conference for Grade 9 girls, recently surveyed female alumni from the university’s math programs and found they were applying their problem-solving and analytical and numerical skills at companies ranging from communications (Google, RIM and Rogers) to science (European Space Agency) and health care (Canadian Blood Services and Cancer Care Ontario).
Past grads included a planning manager for a clothing store, a food and beverage analyst for an international hotel company and a consultant in the renewable energy industry.
“What we have seen is that you can work in almost any sector or company with a math degree,” Dunbar says. “There is virtually no repetition of the same job title and sector on my list of 900 graduates.”
Girls who want to mix fashion and math might end up at a cosmetics company in web development, data analysis, sales forecasting or marketing.
Here are some other examples of job titles held by female math grads:
– Investment banker
– Software developer for social networking company
– Program manager for a cellphone company
– Actuarial analyst
– Health care consultant
– Information technology consultant
“Before I went, math was something I was good at but wouldn’t necessarily look at as a career,” says Mubina, who attended the first Think About Math conference last spring. “But it opened my eyes. I will definitely stick at it.”
Mubina and 39 other girls had discussions with women in a range of math-related careers. They learned they could use math skills to develop online social networks like Facebook, build fashion businesses or help the environment.
In small groups, they pooled their problem-solving skills to navigate a race around campus, analyze results from a survey of female alumni and choose the most economical cellphone plan.
Mubina had never heard of an actuary. Now, she just might become one.
That’s just what Fiona Dunbar likes to hear. She’s a math lecturer at the university and the director of the conference, which will hold two weekend sessions this spring, starting April 29 and May 27, for 80 girls. Online registration closes March 12.
The three-day event is for Grade 9 girls who like math and have a mark of 70 per cent or more. It’s to encourage them to stick with the subject through high school and university and to consider pursuing a math-related career.
“We know from all the studies that girls are just as capable as boys,” says Dunbar, 32, who started as a music major at Waterloo but loved her calculus and linear algebra courses so much that she switched to math, then earned a master’s degree.
She fears that girls are still discouraged by lingering gender stereotypes and modern pop culture messages that focus on looks, weight and bad-girl celebrities. While girls score just as high as boys in standardized tests, women are under-represented in fields like engineering and computer science. In Canada, females account for 17 per cent of engineering undergraduates and a similar gender gap exists in computer science.
International research has shown that teachers and female role models in math-based fields are critical to attracting girls. A recent paper in the bulletin of the American Psychological Association also suggested that girls won’t pursue high-level math if they don’t believe it will lead to appealing career opportunities.
Dunbar, head of the Women in Math Committee at Waterloo and founder of the Canadian Women in Math Association, is doing her best to change the message track.
And she has lots of support.
Last year, she surveyed female alumni from Waterloo’s math programs to trace their career paths and find out what influenced them. She emailed 4,500 questionnaires, hoping to get 50 responses. She received almost 900.
“”It really hit a nerve,” she says. “People really wanted to help and encourage girls to follow in their footsteps.”
Many jumped at the chance to play a role at Think About Math, which includes Q and A sessions with a career panel, hands-on workshops in fields like investment banking and engineering, and a lot of socializing.
Grade 9 girls are targeted because they’re on the cusp of choosing high school courses that will affect their career goals. The idea is to attract those interested in math and who enjoy it, not just students at the top of the class.
The event is sponsored by the university’s Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing and funded through the $12.5 million donation it received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2007 for youth outreach. Participants pay a $75 registration fee and are responsible for transportation. Meals, accommodation and activities are provided by the university.
“It’s really important for girls to have role models and see women in positions they may not have considered,” says Daphne Lucas, a career panel member who works in information security at the consulting firm Deloitte in Toronto.
Lucas, 30, has always loved math and assumed early on that turning that love into a career meant becoming a teacher. But earning her master’s degree in cryptography led her into a field she’d never considered. Today, she helps companies safeguard electronic records and data against security breaches.
In a study last year, Cornell University researchers found many girls who excel at math are also strong in verbal skills and have other talents, so it’s one of several options.
Toronto software consultant Deanne Farrar recalls girls at the conference asked about the possibilities of combining math with fashion, art and other creative pursuits.
“They wanted to know ‘How to I bring those together?'” says Farrar, 44. She’s quick to note that Daniel Lalonde, chief executive officer of luxury products company Louis Vuitton N.A., earned his bachelor’s degree in math at Waterloo.
For Mubina, a Grade 10 student at Turner Fenton Secondary School, the chance to explore math in an all-girl environment and engage in female networking was refreshing.
“It was a real confidence booster, especially being around people that like math as much as you do,” she says. “They were people who really made you feel good about yourself.”
Source: Toronto Star
SUNDAY APRIL 11, 2010
TIME: 930 AM – 430 PM
PLACE: Markham Civic Centre (101 Town Centre Blvd, Markham, ON, L39 9W3)
SA4L Volunteers and OneMatch team members will be working with the Ismaili Health Board to increase the number of potential stem cell donors at the Ismaili Health Fair this year.
Join us between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Sunday April 11th at the Markham Civic Center and you could help save a life by registering yourself as a potential stem cell donor with the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network.