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Nebraska to host women's math conference

Tuesday, February 5, 2008  
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By Lindsay Autry

The campus of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln is hosting hundreds of collegiate left-brained women on Feb. 8-10 for the Tenth Annual Nebraska Conference for Undergraduate Women in Mathematics. Oklahoma assistant math professor Jennifer Bryan will be attending this conference with five of her students.

Evidence shows that the longstanding national trend is women being far outnumbered in the field of mathematics as well as in the fields of science, technology and engineering.

This conference was established to support the women already in these fields by hosting women speakers who are nationally recognized for their works in these areas. It was also created to encourage the women in these concentrations to continue on to graduate school.

"They said it would be a really good idea because I don't know what I want to do after I get my undergrad. So they said, 'You should probably go to see if you want to go to grad school.' I thought that sounded like a good idea. Therefore, I'm going to go see what I'm gonna do with my life," sophomore Megan Wilson said.

The conference began in 1999 to celebrate that the University of Nebraska at Lincoln's Department of Mathematics was awarded a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Math and Engineering Mentoring in 1998. The award was made in recognition of the department's success with female graduate students and came with a $10,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

"It looks good on transcripts, it's a good place to network, and there are also panels that talk about different places to get money for math and different issues that women in our field have dealt with," senior Brittany Scott said.

At the workshop for award recipients following the White House ceremony, they were asked to use the NSF grant in some way that would further develop or expand upon the work recognized by the award.

The idea the awardees came up with was to start this conference, with the aim of celebrating the contributions of women to mathematics and encourage more women to pursue graduate studies in math.

The first conference in 1999 had around 50 undergraduate women participants, and this year they expect over 250.

"It's really good if you're a math major and you're not sure what you're going to do with that. It tells you opportunities. If you have a math degree, you need to go to grad school to get anything done. It helps you know which grad school to go to," junior Jannea Turner said.

This is the second time Bryan will be bringing her students to participate in this conference. She is excited about what this gathering can offer her female students. They can see the many ways they can use their degrees in mathematics and be exposed to professional women in these areas.

"This one girl did a whole lecture about the soccer ball and how the mathematics of it have changed the squares on it to the shape they are today cause it changes the aerodynamics of it," Turner said.

Oklahoma Christian requires seniors in this area to take a seminar course in which they are expected to do research and make a presentation.

"I want younger students to go to this conference so they can begin early on their presentations and aren't confused and scrambling at the last minute," Bryan said. "One part of the Conference that I really enjoy is during Saturday lunch when they set up tables by discipline, and if you are interested in a certain area of research or work or working with a specific company, you can sit at the table and talk to professional women who have been doing that kind of work for years."

This year, the conference looks forward to hosting such speakers as Deborah Lockhart, Kathleen O'Hara and Jennifer Quinn, who have all made many accomplishments in their careers and hold positions as professors at prestigious institutes and directors in organizations that do research work in the field of mathematics.

"I know a couple of us put some things in our comments last year that we want to see things about opportunities other than grad school. One of our girls asked about what to do if we didn't want to go, and everyone on the panel at that time had been to grad school and didn't know what to do," Scott said.

This year, for their tenth anniversary, they are also bringing back distinguished alumni who participated in the conference in years past and are now making progress at universities and in major corporations using math throughout all of their operations.



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