Women Do Math and Ms Infinity: Two
BY LIN SZPITUN
It was September of 1966. Kathy and I took our places in the first class of Physics 11. Our teacher walked into the room, stood on the platform at the front and surveyed the class. He announced, "I will have no girls in my physics class. Go to the office and sign up for a different course." Only by insisting were Kathy and I allowed to remain.
This type of direct discrimination may have disappeared, but more subtle discouragements for young women trying to enter the sciences remain common. In the nine years since I returned to school as a mature student, I have had only one women instructor, in an English course. After grade 8 I had no women teachers for any math or science course. My experience is not unusual. Even where they do not encounter rejection, girls and women who study mathematics or the sciences find few role models and even fewer mentors. Because they do not see a place for themselves many young women do not even consider careers in the sciences and technology. Two attempts to remedy the situation are Ms Infinity and Women Do Math, projects begun in 1987 at Simon Fraser University (SFU).
Women Do Math is a one day conference on scientific careers for young women in grades 9 and 10. It has been held in November of each year and has attracted between 350 and 400 young women, their parents, and teachers from the Greater Vancouver and Fraser Valley regions of British Columbia. Ms Infinity began last year under the under the name Women Do Math B.C. and Yukon, as an attempt to spread the idea to more areas and smaller centers. Five Ms Infinity conferences were held in May of 1990 and five more are planned for May of 1991.
Women Do Math began under the direction of Tasoula Berggren, a mathematics lab instructor at SFU. For several years she observed that the proportion of women in calculus courses was considerably lower than the proportion in the university in general. Discussion of her concerns with others at the Entrance to Women do Math/BC and Yukon. Cariboo College. Kamloops B.C. university and with members of the Canadian Mathematics Educators Study Group at their annual conference convinced her that intervention must be attempted before young women reach the university level. She initiated the first Women Do Math conference in November of 1987.