Expanding on girls and math


By Scott Robertson

Scott Robertson, Managing Editor

Scott Robertson, Managing Editor

In this space back at the beginning of summer, I encouraged the young ladies of the region to take a little extra time to study math. The reason for this exhortation is the relative dearth of women in math-related careers – science, technology and engineering. The opportunities there for qualified women are outstanding.

I pointed out that right now, at the College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee, there are 17 male students for every three females. So the opportunities for young women in the math fields are likely to exist for years to come.

I mention this again today because I want to make parents of kids with an interest in/aptitude for math aware of an opportunity to learn more from someone who knows first hand.

Dr. Carla Martin, an applied research mathematician at the National Security Agency (NSA) will speak at East Tennessee State University Friday from 3-4 p.m. in Gilbreath Hall, room 305.

In announcing Dr. Martin’s appearance, the university called her, “a thought leader on math careers.”

A 20-year veteran of the field of applied research mathematics, Martin will discuss her experiences in the public and private sectors, as well as the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of mathematics in the age of “Big Data.”  She will also describe several algorithms she developed, plus data-management issues that apply to various industries.

The advent of data analysis as a driver of business decisions is one of the biggest differences in the world today and the world in which those of us who are now middle aged grew up. Everything from what products get how much space on your grocery store shelves to where the nation positions its armed forces is determined in large part by analyzing huge stores of data, drawing conclusions about demand, and determining the most efficient way to meet those demands.

Martin will be in town Friday to talk about what this increased reliance on big data analytics (read “math”) means to the country, both in terms of the public and private sectors, and the opportunities it creates for qualified individuals.

“One of the many reasons I love my job is that it allows me to engage with students and others, sharing my passion for both mathematics and public service,” Martin said in ETSU’s announcement. “I look forward to exploring with the audience how critical math is to the security and economic well-being of our country.”

If you doubt the importance of the work Martin is talking about, realize that the NSA is the western world’s hub for cybersecurity, both in terms of keeping our data safe, and keeping an eye on what other countries and entities are doing.

Here’s a glimpse at Dr. Martin’s CV: She earned a doctorate in applied mathematics from Cornell University and then served on the faculty of James Madison University, earning tenure in 2011. She has written extensively about numerical linear algebra and led numerous undergraduate research projects.  She wrote the popular article, “What Can I Do with a Math Degree?” and has been interviewed for CNN Money.

Additionally, she is featured in “101 Careers in Mathematics” by Andrew Sterrett and on the website of the Project for Nonacademic Employment, which is overseen by the Mathematical Association of America.

In short, she is an ambassador for math. She knows first hand what our country’s needs are, both in terms of the free market and of national defense, and she knows what is being done about it.

Think about it in these terms: if you had a son who had scholarship potential in football, and an NFL scouting director came to town to talk about what the league looks for in young players, you’d be there with bells on, right? Well, if you have a young student who has shown an interest in, or aptitude for mathematics, this is the equivalent of that.

Make no mistake, Martin is interested in encouraging talented students, but this is a recruiting trip. She will be talking about careers in the NSA, right down to internship opportunities.

Finally, as an aside, let me say one other thing about that previous column about girls and math. I extolled the virtues of seeking opportunities for young women in the field of mathematics. But contrary to one email I received that week from a clearly agitated gentleman who informed me I was “advancing the cause of the reversal of the dominant sex in America,” at no point did I ever discourage young men with a similar aptitude from following their optimal career path.

The plain truth is that there are opportunities being missed. Even a cursory analysis of the data would lead one to believe that with a 17-3 disparity between the sexes, our country and our economy are missing out on having some very qualified women doing some very important work.

We have a chance to help rectify that, and to advance the careers of our children in the process. My daughter and I hope to see you Friday afternoon at ETSU.



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