When this awesome GoldieBlox ad went viral this fall, it was playing on all of the office computers in the Admission Office. If you haven’t watched it, you MUST treat yourself before you read on.
I was like so many girls who honestly thought I needed a natural math aptitude (which I knew I DID NOT have) to be successful in the subject. Quick story: senior year in high school, my math teacher offered us extra credit if we brought in a math-themed ornament for the classroom Christmas tree. I stayed up nearly all night outdoing my classmates making a math themed angel tree topper with streaming trails of math symbols and white feather wings. Did I ever once invest that many hours to learn a math concept? Of course not. Opportunity to score math points via arts & crafts? Naturally. I laugh now at the choice of an angel for my project – as if only by a gift from God could I actually excel in math.
Recently I read this study, which I really appreciate. It shows that GoldieBlox is right on track to empower girls to enjoy math and science, and that I was wrong to think I simply couldn’t do it. My problem, in reality, was that I simply didn’t work hard enough at it. I didn’t *like* math enough to work hard at it. I’m here to say that like most things in life, you’ll get out of math what you put into it.
In college admission, math matters. When students build math work ethic from an early age they are likely to be tracked into advanced math courses or honors/AP options. The best predictor of success on ACT/SAT math sections? Strong curriculum. Most colleges and universities tie scholarship eligibility to test scores (and GPA, and often other factors). Working through a fear of math or attitudes about math can pay off in real dollars.
And it’s just not at the outset of college; it’s in the professional world too.
I recently had a great conversation with two members of the Ursuline math faculty. Because an aptitude for math can lead to high skill, high pay jobs in a number of fields, it’s a solid option for an undergraduate major. In fact, those two faculty members have Ph.D’s not in math, but in Economics and Chemical Engineering respectively. They love the reaction from students who often come to college with attitudes or misconceptions about their ability to do math then discover that with teaching customized to their skill level, they can get the hang of it. Perhaps they’d spent years in a classroom where the pace was too fast, where they were embarrassed to speak up if they didn’t understand, if they hadn’t mastered the fundamentals before the instructor moved on. Ursuline’s small classes enable them to work at the board one-on-one with a faculty member who can inspire a new interpretation of a once confounding subject. And the fact that most of us (and all the math faculty) are women, shows them an environment where they are not the minority, where there is no gender bias about their ability to master the subject, and where role models overcame the same gender dynamics in the field. It’s no wonder that women’s college graduates show stronger rates of persistence into male dominated fields. It’s our faculty who are the real “math angels”.
We have something special here, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
Carolyn Noll Sorg is the Director of Undergraduate Admission at Ursuline College. Follow Carolyn on Twitter @UCAdmission.