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Trend just doesn't add up

[Rian Dewji]
Rian Dewji (Artsci'12) makes a presentation during Math Quest, an all-girls camp hosted at Jeffery Hall from Aug. 8-11. (University Communications) 

Rian Dewji (Artsci’12) knows all too well that females continue to be under-represented when it comes to studying mathematics at the university level.

He’s seen it firsthand.

Mr. Dewji, a Queen’s mathematics graduate himself, is an actuarial analyst with Collins Barrow and also teaches mathematics part-time in an after-school program in Toronto. Classrooms are filled with girls who are engaged and excellent at math, he says, but that connection for many doesn’t seem to extend beyond the first year of university.

“They are very interested in math and are very good at it and something changes along the way,” he says. “I don’t know what it is or when it is but you find when you go to university, maybe first year there’s quite a good mix, but once you get into second and third year the mix changes, almost completely, and it’s dominated by males. I don’t know why that is and the point is there is no need for it, there’s no reason for it to be the case.”

Hoping to help alter the trend, Mr. Dewji returned to his alma mater as an instructor and presenter at Math Quest, an all-girls math camp sponsored by the Canadian Mathematical Society and the Queen’s University Department of Mathematics and Statistics that was held Aug. 8-11.

Now in its third year, Math Quest is a four-day residential program where young women interested in mathematics learn new and exciting ways of applying mathematical skills.

Mr. Dewji feels that programs such as Math Quest can definitely help turn the trend around.

“I think it’s important for these types of camps to bring awareness to (mathematics) and to expose girls to it,” he says. “I think it’s very different when they are in an environment of all girls as opposed to an environment that is dominated by guys, if that is the case. So having them here in a group together and learning together I think it’s motivating – I hope it is – and I think they get a lot out of it.

A total of 30 students attended this year’s camp and of the 14 instructors involved in the program, 10 are female, providing role models for the participants, explains Siobhain Broekhoven, the camp’s director.

The camp also plays a dual role in introducing the students to university life as they stay in residence and tour campus throughout their time at Queen’s.

The camp also aims to raise awareness of the career opportunities that are available with a mathematics education, beyond being a math teacher or working for Statistics Canada.

“There are two issues at play. One is that there is a lot you can do with math,” says Mr. Dewji. “You can go on and become an actuary like I am right now. You can become a professor, you can work for Statistics Canada. You can work in engineering and weather prediction, all that kind of stuff. But the other side is that all the skills you learn in math are transferable. I have heard multiple times that employers like hiring math students and people who graduated with degrees in math because they know they have learned to think and they have learned how to think critically and problem solve because math is one of the hardest subjects, in my opinion. So if you have gone through and you’ve learned how to problem solve, you’ve learned how to deal with really tough problems.

To learn more about Math Quest, visit the program’s website.