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Girls As Capable as Boys in Math
  MURRAY, Ky. — Evidence is accumulating that girls are just as capable as boys of doing well in math. The long-held myth that girls are not as good in math as boys is just that, says Dr. Maeve McCarthy, professor of mathematics at Murray State University and executive director of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM).
             Research recently published in the Notices of the  American Mathematical Society suggests that girls in the United  States with outstanding talent in math are not identified for the same reasons many boys aren’t — American culture doesn’t value mathematical ability.
             “In America, we are sold this myth that math is just too hard for us,” McCarthy notes. “Not just girls, but boys, too. We have an attitude that it’s okay to not do well in it.”
             The study found that many U.S. students who do well in the most difficult math competitions such as the U.S. and International Math Olympiads are immigrants or children of immigrants from countries that prize mathematical ability more highly than the U.S. does.
             “This research brings validity to the things we’ve been saying all along,” McCarthy says, speaking of concerns of mathematics professors and the AWM.
             McCarthy, who is the first tenured, full professor who has served as the AWM executive director, explains that nuturing mathematical talent needs to begin at least by the time students are in middle school.
“That’s when they start to face the greatest social pressure in their lives,” she explains. “We need to encourage students in math and move away from the stereotype of the ‘math nerd.’”
             The Association for Women in Mathematics already has a number of programs in place to give that needed encouragement for girls and women — along with information about mathematical careers.  
An association with a membership that is primarily academic women (including students), the AWM sponsors an annual contest for boys and girls in middle and high school, as well as undergraduate men and women that pairs each student with a woman in math they will interview and then prepare an essay based on that interview. Additionally, the AWM makes teacher partnerships possible, sponsors career days for high school girls, coordinates a mentoring program  nd runs workshops for graduate students and recent doctoral grads.
             AWM members know that without mentors and advice at  vital stages of education and careers, some female mathematicians, and male as well, might not live up to their potential.
             Math is more than subtraction and addition and makes many things in everyday life possible. Two examples of this include math research for the optimization of chemotherapy regimens for cancer patients and the algebraic structures used in powering search engines such as Google on the Internet.
             McCarthy is pleased the AWM executive director’s office is housed on a campus. “It is a good opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of math in our lives, that people who are good at  
math need support and that math can be cool,” she emphasizes.
             McCarthy began teaching at Murray State University in 1998. A native of Ireland, she received her B.Sc. in mathematical physics and her M.Sc. in mathematical sciences from the National University of Ireland in Galway. She earned the M.A. and Ph.D. in computational and applied mathematics from Rice University in Texas.
             She credits an AWM Mentoring Travel Grant in 2000 with “kick-starting her research after graduate school” and says she is excited to be in her new role as the executive director of AWM.  
“Being a woman mathematician is not enough. I want my daughter to know that I have done everything I could to enhance opportunities for women in mathematics and academia.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: An interesting story considering the U.S. continues to fall behind in business, technology, industry, etc. Why isn't more being done to address this foundation of education?


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