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Sunday, September 28, 2014

For girls, a rare chance to flex math muscles at MIT

Competition aims to defeat gender stereotypes.

Jennifer Smith, Globe Correspondent writes, "Heads bowed, faces focused on the equations in front of them, hundreds of girls worked furiously on a series of math problems in an MIT lecture hall on Saturday morning."

More than 250 seventh through twelfth grade students from around the country took part in the annual Math Prize for Girls competition at MIT Saturday. 
Photo: Boston Globe 

But tens of thousands of dollars in prize money was not the only thing on the line.

Now in its sixth year, the Math Prize for Girls competition is aimed at deflating gender stereotypes that organizers say dissuade young women Photo: from entering technology-based fields.
Started by the Advantage Testing Foundation in 2009, this year’s contest brought about 270 girls in grades 7 through 12 from around the United States and Canada to MIT.
Zoe Feng, 18, a high school senior in Troy, N.Y., competed in the Math Prize for her second time.
“It was intense, but also really fun and creative,” Feng said, adding that “the test requires you to think and approach problems from different angles.”
Originally from Hangzhou, China, Feng came to the United States for high school. To her, being a girl never seemed like a disadvantage when she wanted to pursue math.
“There’s not a bunch of ‘boys can do better’ in China,” Feng said.
Kaiming Sun, 46, of Belmont, whose 15-year-old daughter, Stephanie Zhang, is a participant this year, said the event helps reassure girls that they can be “equally as good as boys.”
A female-focused math event is needed to bridge the gap between men’s and women’s involvement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, also known as STEM, organizers said.
“Girls perform as well as or better than boys in math classes in grade school, but there is an alarming drop-off in the number of young women who study math in college and pursue math-related careers,” Ravi Boppana, the competition’s cofounder and director, said in a statement.
The Math Prize was created to “debunk gender stereotypes, and to support young women who see higher-level mathematics as a pursuit that is challenging, fun, and incredibly rewarding,” he said.
Behind a registration counter, young women bustled in blue T-shirts emblazoned with the symbol for pi. All were alumni from previous events, according to Maria DeVuono-Homberg, the associate director of the Advantage Testing Foundation.
Girls participating in the contest are encouraged to stay in STEM fields and interact with strong role models in those areas, said DeVuono-Homberg.

Source: Boston Globe

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