by Danica Chen
The first thing people saw at the first All Girl’s Math Tournament at San Diego was a splotch of pink and a sign bearing the words “Welcome all girls!” On May 4th, 2015 at the Carmel Valley Library, about thirty kids from grades 3-8 participated in the student-run competition. Some hoped to be rewarded with medals and prizes, though many only aimed to have fun. At first, the girls were shy and reserved. One fifth grade girl named Liana was crying and refusing to do any math. Gradually, though, they got more comfortable as they bonded over their favorite subject. As volunteers passed out pencils, I talked to three young girls who praised mathematics energetically.
“It’s more methodical, there’s no need to write. It’s conceptual and straightforward.” one explained.
However, the event was more than a simple way for female math-lovers to spend a Sunday, as evidenced by a brief PowerPoint shown before the event was about to begin. It explained that the event was designed to combat the widespread stereotypes in the STEM community. After all, women have very little representation in STEM, occupying less than 25% of related professions. Obama himself said that women were an underutilized resource when it came to these fields. To unlock girls’ potential, the organizers of the event hoped the competition will encourage some of the participants to pursue STEM careers.
Soon, the first round began and the girls began to take a math test as individuals. The questions were all provided by Math for Service. I got some time to speak to the high-school kids who put the event together. They got the venue, talked to school districts, communicated with Math for Service, and promoted the event, eventually garnering full registration in two weeks. The three main organizers, Veronica Tang, Eleni Fafoutis, and Jeyla Aranjo, explained their cause in more detail.
“Many people have this stereotype that girls are incapable in STEM fields. It’s also really discouraging to be active as a girl in STEM activities because you are surrounded by boys,” one of the organizers, Veronica Tang, said. “Last year, I went to the American Regional Math League, and the teams were selected based on math competition score. There were around six girls total out of over sixty kids. Girls in this field suffer from insecurity. They just need the encouragement and the environment to be able to develop their skills and confidence.”
Everyone who helped to run the event is convinced it was for a worthy cause. Flora Yue, a volunteer, was absolutely certain the event is crucial to these girls’ lives. “These kids need math. It provides the foundation for a more direct way of thinking,” she insisted.