Girls@expii is a new initiative run by Clare B., Nisha D., and Freya E. in order to encourage girls to contribute and grow their knowledge in both math and physics, two fields that currently lack a strong female representation. Since expii itself is a relatively new organization, we believe it is a clean slate, one that does not yet have stereotypes with respect to gender. Therefore, girls@expii is here to prevent the gender bias that normally appears in mathematics and physics from occurring at expii, by crowdsourcing girls’ passions in STEM disciplines to create a vibrant, all encompassing community. We hope that by giving girls a platform for their interests, they will feel compelled to contribute both inside and outside of expii. Girls@expii is meant to entice everyone to enjoy numbers and the physical world. The desired result is as follows: girls become less of a minority in STEM disciplines on expii, other females will feel less intimidated about making contributions to STEM fields on this forum and may be inspired to join. We want expii to be the new normal, and hopefully this initiative will help catalyze gender equality in all aspects of STEM. The three girls who began this organization have each had very different experiences with mathematics that made them passionate about starting girls@expii in tandem with Po-Shen Loh, expii’s founder; Michelle Newstadt, a pioneering member of the expii team; and Cassie Taylor, a member of expii’s design team. Below, Clare, Nisha, and Freya, respectively, have shared their stories.

Math did not always agree with me. I grew up intimidated by the study, convinced that my many questions during a lesson signaled ignorance and ineptitude, instead of curiosity. It was because of this that I did not get involved with mathematics until the end of  my sophomore year. It was around that time that I had begun to sit at the front of the class, putting me in my teacher’s line-of-sight. As a result, she began to notice when I looked dissatisfied with one of her explanations and slowly, I started to ask questions. I slowly began to realize the source of my discontent in the class: I wasn’t interested in having her repeating an equation back to me verbatim, instead I wanted to know why things were the way they were.

Soon, I discovered proofs outside of the context of a standard high school geometry class and I realized how strikingly elegant numbers can be. By the beginning of the summer I felt as though I had undergone a mathematical renaissance. Unfortunately, I was years behind my peers, so I did everything I could to catch up. However, as I got more serious about mathematics, I realized how male dominated it can be. Fortunately for me, everyone I worked with was encouraging and truly inspiring, my short exposure to the field has been quite pleasant in that regard, but I do know how intimidating it can be as a girl working with only men around her.

Yet, I loved math too much for that to slow me down. Over the course of my junior and senior years I have studied pre-calculus, multivariable calculus and linear algebra independently so I could test out of them in school. I have gone to math camp and competitions around the East Coast. This has not been easy, because, as any enthusiast knows, that math demands rigor, focus and meticulous thought. I’m still working to develop the skills to make me a disciplined mathematician,  but the past year has been one of rapid growth, learning and extreme happiness. Studying numbers always seemed so difficult to me, but it is my belief that anyone can be a mathematician and everyone should feel comfortable in their pursuit of mathematics. This is why I wanted to assist with girls@expii in any way, because math should be gender blind, truly, all it takes to be successful is an insatiable curiosity and a passion for the truth that numbers possess.

Maybe it was coincidence, but in the area that I grew up, the math leagues were dominated by girls every year that I participated. I didn’t think it unusual that my regional teams in 6th and 7th grade were skewed heavily in favor of the females. In fact, I didn’t notice anything right up until I qualified for Mathcounts Nationals – on an all girls team.

When we got to Nationals, I got an inkling then that we were a special case. Most of the teams I saw there were all boys, or three boys with one (typically lonely looking) girl. Barely any of the teams had two or three girls, let alone four (the size of a Nationals team). It was at these Nationals that I also learned about the existence of a ‘Top Girl’ award in many states, and my team joked that New Hampshire should have a ‘Top Boy’ award instead. What really got me, though, were the people telling us that we were probably the first all-girls team in Mathcounts Nationals history.

I have never confirmed this with Mathcounts to see if this was actually true, but the fact that people thought that at all is what counts. A girl has never taken first place in Mathcounts Nationals, and it’s been running for over thirty years. If female participation is low in these introductory stages to mathematics, then it can only decrease as they progress onwards to the AMCs and beyond. Therefore, due to this theoretical butterfly effect, fewer girls will feel motivated to pursue mathematics as a field of study in college. The girls who do are in a community which they are, for the most part, a minority.

I distinctly remember thinking back then that if I had been the only girl on my team, I wouldn’t have had much fun at Nationals at all. In fact, my motivation to participate may have been lessened altogether since I wouldn’t have gotten to go to Florida (widely regarded as the best Nationals location) with like-minded girls that I could be friends with. The opportunity of bonding with my other female team members was what I really enjoyed about the Mathcounts experience, and it’s sad that other girls don’t get to have that.

That’s why the girls@expii movement is so important to me personally. We want to provide other girls with a community in which they can find others like themselves, and the result of this is the increase of gender diversity in mathematics because more girls will be encouraged to join. Expii is still a new and wonderful venture, and if we can attract many girls to it, then perhaps they will develop an interest in math and will be more willing to pursue it because they know that they don’t have to be the minority anymore.

I grew up in a household filled with mathematical puzzles, videos, and posters, so my exposure to math was just fun and games.  Gender was never an issue; in elementary school, I was in advanced math classes, and there was no stereotyping of any sort.  In 5th grade, I participated in my first math competition, the AMC 8, and to me it was simply a set of fun problems to solve in 40 minutes.  I ended up coming in second place in my school to another girl.  Then, in another math competition, the top two places in my school were both boys.  Rankings didn’t matter though; the point of the competitions was to have fun solving math problems whether male or female, old or young, etc.  Math was for everybody.

It was during my summer to 7th grade at AwesomeMath Summer Program when I first came across the idea that math was often considered a “guy thing.”  I found it surprising that the gender ratio was heavily skewed away from 1:1, but more like 4 boys to for every 1 girl.  In addition, almost all of the math teachers were male.  I remember asking some people about the gender disparity, and they said that it was always the case.  In my twelve-year-old mind, I thought, “What does it matter that I’m in a minority?  I love math, and I’m not going to let something like gender trump my passion.”  I also find the math community very accepting and cohesive, and I’ve almost always felt that I belong.

In the years following, I got more involved in the math community by joining more math competitions, participating in math circles, and posting on AoPS and expii.  Although the proportion of girls was small and there were times when I was the only girl on my team, I just enjoyed the math and made friends as if no stereotypes existed.  However, as I met other female mathletes, my perception of the skewed gender ratio changed.  I distinctly remember asking one of my friends if she would be attending an on-site math competition, and she responded that she really wanted to attend for the joy of math, but only would do so if she was not the only girl on her team.  That encounter and many similar ones solidified my conviction that we can’t lose people talented in or passionate about math (or anything for that matter) for some ridiculous reason like gender stereotypes!  Rather, we must change the circumstances in order to fully embark this quest for knowledge…

And this is what brings me here at girls@expii.  We have this communal mission to inspire other girls to follow their passions into math, and to provide them with role models who they can relate to, showing what they can become.  Thank you everyone who helped me journey this far into mathematics, and hopefully we can help others do the same.

I’d like to conclude my section with a word to everyone reading this:  whether you are male or female, old or young, passionate about math or not, please do not let fixable hurdles trump your ardor for anything.  Keep the end of your quest in mind, and persevere to get there, one step at a time.  And don’t forget:  it’s never too late to begin or try again.  Just stay resolute, and wholeheartedly embark and continue on your journey.  Best of luck.

At the moment, we have a created a Facebook group that is forty members strong (and we hope that it will grow much larger!) and we have weekly post-a-thons. The way the post-a-thons work is we save all the articles we write for publishing on a certain time Saturday night, and then we flood expii with our contributions. Also, due to the fact that fame on expii is gained through community popularity, we all go upvote each others’ articles to boost their spots on the leaderboard. The first week we ran it, we dominated the leaderboards! We hope that we can continue on in this fashion.

We also have shirts being made for the movement, which feature our ‘catchphrase’ of sorts:Putting the XX in expii! We should have them ready by the Math Prize competition this year, so keep your eyes peeled for them!

Girls@expii hopes to grow and reach beyond the expii community. It is important to this team that all girls know that they should feel confident in any math enthusiast community. We shouldn’t have to walk into a math competition and quickly realize that there are hardly any other girls there (which will certainly not happen at Math Prize for Girls!). The study of mathematics belongs to everyone, not just one gender; expii exemplifies this truth. Girls@expii hopes to lead by example and ultimately, we hope that in the near future, mathematics and other STEM fields might see an equal split between the genders.

Acknowledgements: Special thanks to Po-Shen Loh and Michelle Newstadt for creating the idea for the movement; we wouldn’t be writing this if it weren’t for them! And another thank you to Cassie Taylor for creating the shirt design; we know that it’s going to be awesome!

Guest post by Girls @ expii

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