Math enthusiasts aim for the STEM glass ceiling | MIT News

A good math problem is like an enclosed secret garden, according to Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) chair and MIT professor Asu Ozdaglar, who was speaking to an audience of self-identifying high school girls and boys. in mathematics at the 14th annual edition. Math Prize for Girls (MP4G) event.

“A lot of people who walk outside never try to see the other side of what appears to be a high brick wall,” she says. “Worse still, many students are being told that the math garden is not for them, that they are not the right kind of person to be successful in math. We know that more girls get this message than boys.

The 240 girls in the audience were able to find the keys to open the door to this garden, thanks in part to the growing Mathematical Equation Fellowship that meets annually at MIT. It’s not just a math contest. MP4G alumni have formed an expanding network to demystify gender stereotypes in STEM fields and to help pass the keys to that garden to a whole new generation of girls across the United States and Canada.

The competition

The female “mathletes” who had qualified to take the exam by performing well in the recent American Mathematics Competition exam started the MP4G weekend on a Saturday by attending social events. There was a campus tour, dinner, and game night, and on Sunday they had breakfast before the competition and lunch together before the awards ceremony.

As they took a 2.5-hour exam with 20 multi-step problems in geometry, algebra and trigonometry, their parents attended a panel of Mathematics Prize alumni that included MIT PhD candidates Velina Kozareva and Rachel Zhang ’21.

The awards ceremony at Kresge Auditorium included a performance by the MIT group Logarhythms a cappella, a keynote lecture by Professor Eli Grigsby of Boston College on “Geometry and Neural Networks”, and the presentation of awards to the top 35 nominees.

Jessica Wan, a Florida Virtual School junior, received the $50,000 top prize with a score of 17 out of 20. She also won it in the last competition, in 2019, as an eighth grader. (The MP4G event was halted for two years due to the pandemic.)

“The contest problems were challenging and very interesting, and the opportunity to meet other mathletes from across the country was phenomenal!” says Wan.

The next four winners were Isabella Zhu, a 12th grader at Thomas Jefferson High School in Virginia, whose score of 15 won her $20,000; California 10th graders Ishani Agarwal of Saratoga High School in New York and home-schooled Angela Liu each scored 12 points, to win $7,000 each; and 10th grader Emily Yu of Mendon High School in New York, whose score of 11 earned $4,000. The next four winners took home $2,000 each, and the 10th through 17th place winners received $300. Winners are posted on the foundation’s Art of Problem Solving website.

The top 35 scorers will be invited to take part next month in the 2022 Mathematics Prize Olympiad, a four-hour exam with four proof-based problems taken at their schools.

Alumni Network

Sponsored by the Advantage Testing Foundation and global trading company Jane Street, MP4G is the largest competition of its kind in North America and also served as an unofficial pipeline at MIT. Many high school participants apply to MIT, and seven of the 12 MP4G winners have since enrolled at MIT: graduate math student Danielle Wang ’21, in 2010 and 2013; Victoria Xia ’18, who won in 2011 and 2012; Rachel Zhang ’21, in 2015; Qi Qi ’21 and Catherine (Katie) Wu ’22, who both won in 2016; Megan Joshi ’22 in 2017; and Yuxuan Zheng, a third-year math major, in 2018.

“This competition is encouraging more girls to be passionate about math and interested in STEM careers, and that’s certainly much needed,” says Michel Goemans, chair of MIT’s Department of Mathematics and RSA Professor of Mathematics. “We can definitely feel the impact of this competition, as we often cross paths with some of the participants in college or graduate school.”

Alumni went on to earn advanced degrees in fields such as engineering, computer science, biomedical sciences and mathematics, and worked in technology-driven industries such as aviation, robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as financial services. Many of them thank this MP4G network for their professional trajectories.

At the event, MP4G alumni and MIT volunteers helped girls collaborate on science problems, talked about pursuing careers in STEM, and discussed gender equality in math achievement and in STEM fields to provide a diverse and motivated STEM workforce.

Several participants said they enjoyed the unique feeling of being in a room full of women passionate about mathematics.

“I’ve loved all of my competitive math experiences so far, but this was definitely my favorite,” says Garima Rastogi, an 11th grader at Virtual Learning Academy Charter School in New Hampshire. “The energy of a room full of girls who are passionate about math – it’s so different and so empowering.”

Olivia Xu, an 11th grader at Harker School in California who finished in 11th place this year, said participating in MP4G “has opened my eyes to the many paths I can take in college and career. -of the”.

Allison Koenecke ’14, who entered MP4G’s inaugural competition and is now an assistant professor of information science at Cornell University, says she was drawn to the competition because her high school background had lacked some support system for women interested in STEM.

“I hope these young women have more opportunities to not feel so ‘different’ as they pursue their intellectual passions,” she noted in a video released at the event.

Former MP4G panelist and 2013 and 2014 MP4G alumnus Cameron Krulewski, who is currently pursuing her PhD in mathematics at MIT, calls the event an invaluable experience for girls to “compete, make friends, find mentors, and be inspired.” , all in an environment that they are not in the minority: “I know that this is an experience that I have pursued in my mathematical career. When I return to volunteer, I am always inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of the young women I interact with at the Math Prize.

More money

Thanks to Jane Street’s $15 million endowment, this year the cash prize doubled to a total of $100,000.

“Our partnership will ensure the long-term sustainability of the competition and create opportunities to expand its reach and accessibility,” said Sandor Lehoczky, Managing Director of Jane Street, who sits on the board of the Advantage Testing Foundation. and MP4G. “Programs like this promote gender equity in STEM fields now and in the future.”

Lehoczky is a Mathematical Olympiad alumnus and co-author of The Art of Problem Solving,” a book that launched the mathematical Art of Problem Solving community.

Many MP4G alumni went on to work at Jane Street, including Sophie Mori ’19, who studied Computer Science, Linguistics and Philosophy, and Sophia Xia ’21, who studied Mathematics and Computer Science.

For the love of math girls

The competition was founded by two men who were inspired by their mathematically gifted daughters. MP4G Director Ravi Boppana PhD ’86, who is also an affiliated researcher in MIT’s Department of Mathematics, has one daughter, and Advantage Testing President Arun Alagappan has three.

Boppana and his wife, panel host Ranu Boppana ’87, are the parents of Meena Boppana, math and computer science teacher at the Commonwealth School in Boston which supervised the exams on Sunday.

She was one of our inspirations to launch the math prize in 2009, as she was a mathematician girl while participating in math competitions and mostly male math teams,” says Ravi Boppana.

Meena was unable to participate in MP4G due to her family’s conflict of interest. “She qualified for the top three math prizes from 2009 to 2011, but only sat the MP4G exams unofficially,” says Ravi.

To organize this event, other members of the MIT community also helped members of the Admissions Office and the Mathematics Department, approximately 50 students who hosted applicants in their dorms, and 60 student volunteers.

MP4G Program Administrator Sulochana Devadas and her husband, EECS Professor and PRIMES IT Section Coordinator Srini Devadas, have two MP4G alumni, Sheela and EECS graduate student Lalita (Lali) Devadas; Lali had helped organize the game night.

MP4G board members include Gigliola Staffilani, Abby Rockefeller Mauze Mathematics Professor; Donner Professor of Mathematics Michael Sipser; University of California San Diego Professor Ioana Dumitriu PhD ’03; and Harvard University professor Lauren K. Williams PhD ’05.

Nitya Mani, who had worked as a trader at Jane Street before deciding to pursue her doctorate at MIT to study discrete probability and graph theory, was a five-year-old MP4G candidate who finished ninth in 2014. This year she has was a host of MP4G.

MP4G “was one of the things that kept me in math, because I had such a negative experience doing math competitions,” Mani recalls.

“I think the ability to form that community is what has kept us all together collectively, not just in math, but in STEM as a whole, because we’ve kind of formed a support system and a support network for each other. for others, that kind of can extend, you know, beyond high school.

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