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  • Linda Givetash, Record staff
  • Sun Aug 19 2012
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UW summer school encourages women in math

McMaster University professor Gail Wolkowicz (right) teaches a two-week summer enrichment graduate program to top female mathematics students. The program is designed to encourage top female students to stay in the field.
Women in Math McMaster University professor Gail Wolkowicz (right) teaches a two-week summer enrichment graduate program to top female mathematics students. The program is designed to encourage top female students to stay in the field.
Record staff

WATERLOO — Some of the brightest young minds in the country are spending two weeks in the region exploring the possibilities of careers in mathematics.

The University of Waterloo is hosting a two-week summer school for 16 top female undergraduate students from across Canada to give them a taste of graduate studies in math-related fields.

“At every level, you have fewer and fewer percentage (of) women to men,” explained Barbara Csima, associate professor of mathematics at the university.

“We’re trying to increase the number of women continuing on to graduate studies.”

The young women, chosen from 50 that applied, live at the university and take part in minicourses, lectures and trips.

The two challenging courses — lead by Prof. Matilde Lalin from the University of Montreal and Prof. Gail Wolkowicz from McMaster University — involve collaboration between the students and presentations on top of individual study that students don’t typically experience until graduate school.

“It showcases math as a collaborative process,” said Csima.

While it is the first time the university is hosting the two-week program, this trend in offering supplementary programming to encourage women in math and sciences is nothing new.

Waterloo’s Women in Mathematics committee organizes events throughout the school year to promote graduate studies. The university also has a group that reaches out to girls in high school or younger to encourage them to pursue studies in mathematics.

In May, Wilfrid Laurier University approved a Centre for Women in Sciences to provide opportunities for women to network and collaborate in science-related fields. Conestoga College also offers specific programs geared toward women to draw them to work in trades.

For the summer school program, encouraging young women also entails introducing them to job prospects.

Csima said that although she didn’t second-guess studying mathematics at the graduate and doctoral level thanks to the example her parents set as professionals, not all young people have those role-models to guide them.

“I think it’s important for us to reach out to women who maybe don’t have that example in front of them and show them all the successful women in these male-dominant careers and show them that there are excellent opportunities available,” she said.

During the two weeks, the students will see careers first hand in touring companies both locally and in Toronto, including Manulife and IBM. Industry professionals and academics are scheduled to offer lectures to the students as well to show them what their professional lives can be after they complete their studies.

“We want to show that if you get a graduate degree, there’s more options than trying to be a professor or trying to be a teacher after that,” said Csima.

The students’ trip to Toronto takes place next Wednesday and the two-week program ends Aug. 25.

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