I just participated in an inspiring panel called “My Journey in STEM.” The target audience was young women who had performed well in the American Mathematics Competitions. The other panelists were MAA colleagues April Ström, Hortensia Soto, and Emille Davie Lawrence.
We each shared a picture that represented our mathematical journey and a word that summarized our advice to these women.
My picture appears above. It is from my sophomore year in college and documents one of my favorite places to study and write. Friends would frequently stop by and chat. One of my professors, Dr. Bill Lenhart, would pass me on his way to the mathematics department. Without fail he would offer an encouraging word. It started as “You’re good at math. You should take another class” and progressed to “You’re good at this. You should consider becoming a math major.”
I eventually declared math as a second major but it wasn’t until second semester senior year, when I took a combinatorics class from Professor Lenhart, that I found my mathematical passion. This leads to my word, which was community.
Math is not a solitary pursuit. Crazy ideas uttered out loud in a place of trust and support have more power than realistic ideas kept within the confines of your own skull. They spark innovation and creative solutions. Regardless of your discipline, surround yourself with allies to help you achieve and promote your goals—and do the same for them. I am grateful to belong to many wonderful mathematics communities including #TacomaMath, my UW Tacoma colleagues and students, and my dear friends across the MAA.
It was an interesting exercise to come up with a picture and a word for this panel. I challenge you to do the same. What would your picture be? What word encapsulates your advice?