This blog was posted on behalf of Pia Wilson-Body. Pia is the Executive Director of the Intel Foundation and the Director of the Corporate Affairs Group at Intel- Greater Americas. The Intel Foundation award grants focused on increasing opportunities for girls, women, and under-represented minorities, and supports the philanthropic efforts of Intel’s employees in education, local communities, and disaster relief.
When I was in the third grade, I dreamed of solving big problems. Everyone who was within listening distance would smile every time I smugly proclaimed, “I’m going to be a mathematician!”
And I wasn’t the only one aspiring to be a Mathematician, so was my classmate and dear cousin, Chari. Chari and I encouraged each other, competing at every turn for bragging rights of being “the best.” What started as a little friendly motivation gradually developed over time thanks to two very brilliant and insightful teachers, Mrs. Welch and her assistant, Mr. Griffith, who nurtured and increased our appetite for math. They were creative, energetic, and had the foresight to teach us how to solve real world problems using mathematical expressions and equations.
I recall one Thanksgiving holiday, we were assigned a lesson on fractions where we examined recipes to determine if the fractions were less than one or greater than one. We were extremely committed, not to mention eager, when the deal was sweetened by Chari who convinced our grandmother to bake an extra sweet potato pie for our problem-solving endeavor. This is just one of the many real world application of math that kept us interested. Another one of our favorite problems called for us to watch and study the Jackson Five* dance performance to solve a multi-step word problem. From that simple exercise, we learned repeat patterns and the use of multi-operations (addition, subtraction, and fractions). Of course, we also learned the latest dance moves to their hit “Dance Machine*,” but that was just an added bonus. Mrs. Welch and Mr. Griffith even made it exciting to go to the chalk board and solve problems in front of the class – it was a badge of honor to be called upon.
But by the fourth or fifth grade, I lost my desire to be a mathematician. Math was no longer exciting or fun. It felt like the hands-on assignments where we applied math to real-life problems were gone. The methodology morphed into lectures– a teacher scribing on the blackboard, problems assigned from the text book, and less interaction with classmates.
My seventh grade year marked the release of the Star Wars* movie…and that galaxy far, far away landed in my science classroom! Space science took center court that year. While the boys were filled with excitement imagining themselves as Luke Skywalker fighting in galactic wars, I distinctly recall the girls, myself included, on the sidelines bored, fearing the monotonous tasks, and dreading going to class.
Not to mention, in science class we learned about our state heroes– Astronaut John Glenn and Astronaut Neil Armstrong. However, heroes a.k.a. ‘sheroes’ like Jean Clark Keating, an aerospace engineer, Katherine Collie Speegle, a mathematician, or Katherine Johnson, a physicist and mathematician featured in Hidden Figures* were not covered. It would have been empowering to know the contributions of these remarkable women.
So, you can imagine why it may have resonated with me, when I read multiple reports that suggested girls were losing interest in science and math during middle school. There is a gap in the number of girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The National Center for Women & Information Technology cite issues that deter girls from STEM careers include:
- Teaching styles that do not include collaboration
- Reliance on lecturing instead of hands-on learning
- Limited knowledge or lack of perception of STEM careers
I experienced all of these as I reflect back on my school days. The issues have not changed over the years and in fact, the concerns have magnified. Today, I am proud to lead the Intel Foundation in its pursuit to foster girls’ ambitions in technology. We are investing in innovative programs to increase number of U.S. middle school girls that enroll in technology, engineering, and computer science preparatory courses in high school. As part of this, the Foundation recently concluded a search for new partnerships to increase girls’ interest in technology-related areas and we strongly believe that by working together we can bridge the gap.
The good news is we are ALL a part of the solution. Join us by encouraging girls in your local community– volunteer to be a mentor! We need to work together to ensure girls everywhere are supported in their math, science, and technology aspirations in school and beyond. We need you to continue to be the role models and mentors to the young Pia’s and Chari’s, so they stay the course and realize their dreams. Today the opportunities are endless for young girls and our collective support will make all the difference. Young girls need to see what they can be. For this young girl who is now a grown up, I am humbled by the fact that I did grow up to solve big problems – just not as a mathematician.
*Other names and brands may be claimed as the property of others.