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Girls Get Engaged, Grow Their Interest in Mathematics

The 2011 Girls and Mathematics Summer Day Program, sponsored by the IMA and the National Science Foundation, was held June 20–24, 2011, on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus. This program, initiated and designed by Irina Mitrea, former associate director at the IMA, now at Temple University, has successfully run over the last five years with previous editions organized at the University of Virginia in 2006, 2007, and 2008 and at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2009.

The IMA edition kicked off with great enthusiasm—just days after the application process opened more than 100 applications were received. Because of the impressive amount of interest, the IMA increased the funding for the program so that 50 middle school girls participated (twice as many as originally planned).

The Girls and Mathematics Program was designed to provide middle school girls with a variety of engaging mathematical experiences focused on extending their understanding and knowledge in mathematics. Topics included divisibility, modular arithmetic, introduction to cryptography, introduction to probability, geometry, Fibonacci numbers, the Golden Ratio, and fractals. The young students were exposed to mathematically talented female role models, able to work one on one with mentors in a comfortable and encouraging all-girls setting, and meet other girls with a similar interest in mathematics. Through various educational activities, creative projects, experiments, and mini-lectures, the program aimed to spark the girls’ curiosity about mathematics and hopefully inspire and support a long-term interest in mathematics and the sciences. At the same time, the program offered a unique professional opportunity for the women undergraduate and graduate students in mathematics who served as mentors.

"It was very exciting to see how Girls and Mathematics impacted everyone involved: the middle school girls, many of whom experienced for the first time how difficult mathematical challenges can be fun and how solving these require imagination and creativity; the undergraduate and graduate women mentors, who met the challenge to inspire those looking up to them and for whom this mentoring experience is already making an impact on their professional life; and the parents, who now think of the IMA as a place that is invested in the girls’ success in mathematics and as a resource for achieving this," said Mitrea.

The sixth- and seventh-grade participants had this to say when asked to comment about the program’s mentors: "Awesome!" "Helpful and Nice," "They were encouraging," "Amazing," "AWESOME!" "Really awesome," "I loved my instructor and she was awesome, I’ll miss her," "They were the best instructors you can have."