#code with a side of math

It’s #mathematicalmodel Monday and Jamie, aka @bergerwithasideofcode, shares some information about her experience with math, technology, and how the two work together! She’s excited to share her story because having proper role models for girls is so important in achieving more female representation in STEM. Much like myself, Jamie did NOT always like math. She has a belief that “most people don’t like math until they have had the right teacher,” and I can fully attest to that statement! She now holds a B.S. in Mathematics and is working on her Ph.D in Computer Science, where much of her research is on broadening diversity within the tech space. Read more about her math story and how mathematical algorithms play a role in software development.

ALERT: I did NOT always like math!!! I didn’t enjoy math until the 8th grade (~14 years old). My math teacher at the time, Mr. Bernie Stripling, was the first teacher who took the time to explain concepts to me without making me feel like I was wasting his time. I had a difficulty keeping up with the pace during class so the private instruction really helped me succeed.

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While I was an undergraduate at Eastern Michigan University, I was in the Math Club @ EMU. I joined because math was my major, I enjoyed taking on leadership roles, and I love making paper airplanes! (Math Club @ EMU held a paper airplane making contest every academic year.) I became President after my first semester at EMU because I wanted a leadership role for my resume and I was the only female in the club, so of course I wanted to change that. Shortly after I became President, our organization of 6 members turned into 12 active members including 4 females! With a different perspective of how the club should run and be advertised, I added value and reputation to the club. This is an example of how diversity in STEM is important.

I earned my B.S. in mathematics and now I am a computer science Ph.D. student at Michigan Technological University! However, that doesn’t mean I lose any opportunities to do mathematics!

Given that I am a Ph.D. student, I do a lot of research!! My research is on computer science education and broadening participation of underrepresented minorities in STEM within computer science. Underrepresented groups in STEM include Black American, Latinx, and Indigenous Americans, along with women. My goals are to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in computer science to at least match the national demographics of the United States. For example the U.S. Census Bureau shows 13.3% of Black Americans in 2016, therefore the technology industry should also reflect 13.3% Black American.

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You may wonder, “This seems weird, why doesn’t MMA or nursing need to reflect national demographics? Why is technology so special?” [ Joe Rogan, if you’re reading this, this one is for you. :) … in response to The Joe Rogan Experience Episode #1009]

It is important to have diversity in STEM because technology affects everyone’s daily lives around the world. If the MMA doesn’t have a Native American fighter, it most likely wouldn’t negatively affect the majority of the Native American population. If you have a nurse that has never seen a Latinx person before, that does not mean the nurse will accidently poke a wrong vein. However, the lack of diversity in the computing field is a cause of many technologies discriminating against minorities. This in turn affects the livelihood of many. In small airports the scanning machines are not updated, so they frequently pick on POC for an extra check. Does this mean that it was intentional? Absolutely, not! However, humans create technology, so what a human knows will translate to that technology. To explain further I will use Google for an example. They are a worldwide company that affects the lives of 1.17 billion. In 2015, Google created a new Photos application that when “gorilla” was typed into the search engine, people of color would arrive as results. Google’s current (January 2017) employee demographics are 69% male, 56% white, 35% asian, 4% hispanic, 2% black, 4% mixed race, and <1% other. So does this mean Google is racist and thinks POC people look like Gorillas? No way, Jose!! It means Google did not have enough ethnic representation when creating the algorithms for their Photos application. They needed diverse perspectives in order to disseminate factual information and filter out potentially “harmful” information.

Now what does this have to do with math?? Algorithms!

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In computer science and mathematics an algorithm is an unambiguous set of instructions to solve a class of problems. They are used in calculations, data processing, and automated tasks. [definition help from Wiki]. The term “unambiguous” is the most important part of the definition of an algorithm. This means that every case of the problem must be considered. Computer scientists also need to understand discrete structures, probability theory, and fundamental concepts such as definitions, proofs, sets, functions, and relations. Unfortunately for Google, they did not create a search algorithm that was comprehensive enough to consider all the cases of the problem. This makes for a strong case for diversity in technology!

Much like Jamie's work, her blog post draws connections between mathematics, computer science, and the importance of promoting diversity in technology. You can find Jamie on Instagram at @bergerwithasideofcode, where you can follow her coding adventures and her quest to increase diversity in STEM fields!