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LMU Course Focuses on Contributions of Women in Math

Most folks have trouble naming more than a few mathematicians from history, perhaps coming up with Einstein – though he was not really a mathematician – Pythagoras or Newton, and almost no one names a woman. But two 2009 Loyola Marymount University graduates can.

Cinthia Vega and Lucy Orozco enjoy spreading the message that women have made significant contributions to the field. On Saturday, March 13, they spoke to 30 undergraduate math majors gathered at a conference on “Encouraging Girls in Math,” and they will present a workshop, “Great Women in Mathematics,” to 25 junior high girls at a math and science career day for junior high girls to be held at Mount St. Mary’s College on April 10, 2010.

Where did they gain this expertise? From the LMU course “Women and Mathematics,” which was developed 30 years ago by Jackie Dewar, professor of mathematics. Dewar recalled that it wasn’t until graduate school at USC that she heard the name of a woman mathematician. She was determined that it would be different for her students. In the 1970s, far fewer women chose to study advanced mathematics in high school, and as a result mathematics as an elective acted as a “critical filter,” keeping women from math-related careers. The circumstances have improved:  Nationally, about 50 percent of undergraduate math majors are women; at LMU 66 percent of math majors are women.

“Role models are a great motivator,” Dewar said, “and students of all ages benefit from knowing that others like them have been successful at mathematics. I am so proud of Lucy and Cinthia, now successful teachers at Junipero Serra High School [in Gardena, Calif.] and Huntington Park College Ready Academy High School, respectively, that they are continuing to spread the word, not just in their own classrooms, but beyond.”

Continuing the “Women in Math” course is a priority for Dewar. She notes that “courses are like dry ice, they evaporate,” so she applied and received funding from the TENSOR Foundation to mentor Alissa Crans, assistant professor, and Lily Khadjavi, associate professor, as they teach the course “Women in Math.”

Posted March 15, 2010