In today’s workforce, women hold about 21 percent of technical jobs. They hold 32 percent of computer-systems design jobs, and in 2015 they made up 12 percent of engineering jobs, according to a survey.
These statistics are what two UNC graduate students had in mind when developing “Girls Talk Math” last year. It’s a day camp for high school girls that allows them to study and explore the different subjects and methods within mathematics.
“In our application, we didn’t ask for grades; we didn’t ask for letters of recommendation; we just specifically asked for an interest paragraph,” said co-founder Francesca Bernardi. “Because we wanted them to be excited about this, and to be here and that was it. That’s really what we base our decisions on.”
Bernardi said she and co-founder Katrina Morgan have sent out flyers to every high school in a 40-mile radius. Last year they had 26 campers and this year they have 36.
Morgan said they’ve received a flood of applicants interested in the program each year.
“We started to get interest from people from very far away,” she said. “And we had to explain that it’s a day camp, and we don’t have the facilities to help you. And we were confused about it at first because we only sent emails to schools nearby, but people seemed interested and excited and shared it, which is great. It’s what we want.”
The program is free for campers and is funded by a grant from the Mathematical Association of America. The funding allows the girls to choose a subject to focus on: Knot Theory, Classification of Surfaces, Mathematical Physics, Algebra, Network Science or Computing and Dynamics. The girls split into groups and work on collaborative math problems, all developed by UNC grad students.
“We work with grad students in the department to come up with these problem sets, and we both go through them,” Morgan said. “I’ve written some of them, and it’s a really fun process – seeing the girls go through it and discovering these new ideas is really fun.”
The campers also get to do other fun projects, such as create blog posts about their studies and research famous women mathematicians. But Morgan said they incorporate other methods to teach the girls more about the subject they love.
“They were given Barbie dolls and rubber bands and the height of a bridge over here, like a little skywalk in part of this building, and they did some Barbie bungee-jumping,” she said. “They were trying to figure out experimentally what was the right number of rubber bands to get her as close to the ground as possible without hitting the ground. It was a lot of fun.”
Bernardi said one of the best things about Girls Talk Math is getting to watch the girls bounce ideas off one another and getting to see their learning processes.
“They can use the board and think about this together and then do something else and go back to it,” she said. “There are a lot of problems also that are not necessary for them to solve in order to move on, so we encourage them to think about this seriously, but then if it’s not happening, just keep going.”
The program ends its two-week run Friday. Click here for more information or for how to apply to attend next year.