Student Essay Contest

The Road Not Taken

2014 AWM Essay Contest: Grand Prize Winner

By: Nathalie Sieh, St. Cecelia Interparochial School in Clearwater, Florida.

What makes a person choose Path A over Path B? What makes a person take the road less traveled?
“My father had a substantial career at the top “Big 8” accounting firm Arthur Andersen, but you could have knocked him over with a feather when I told him I was going to get an MBA and a CPA. He thought I would be a nice nurse or marry well.”
Mary Judith Gedroiz, a Certified Public Accountant, grew up in a family and in a community where girls were supposed to develop their femininity or their faith – not their academic potential. Mary Judith, however, never saw “being a girl” as something that limited what she could do. And yet, while she never saw it as an excuse, there WAS one obstacle she had to overcome: her dyslexia. “When I was in elementary school, I was labeled a poor speller and somebody who couldn’t read, so I was either sent to the back of the class or off to remedial. I certainly felt like I wasn’t as smart as everyone else.”
“The beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right name.” – Chinese proverb
Mary Judith is the perfect example of why labels matter. Her teachers labeled her slow and lazy. Her friends used to say, “Poor Mary Judith sitting at the back of the class!” At the time, she did not know she had dyslexia. School eventually got better because she found ways to compensate, not because it became easier or because her dyslexia went away. She would memorize words and how they were spelled. She would count the number of students in front of her, find the section she would be asked to read aloud, and then practice that paragraph over and over until it was her turn. She would create patterns, charts, and tricks to help classify and retain information. She was persistent and worked hard.
“I believe that learning to develop my compensatory skills played a huge role in my success as a professional because in finance one has to intuit many different things going on at the same time. Perhaps my ability to pull information out of context, concentrating not just on one indicator, but bringing many in laterally, may have been affected by what I learned to do from my struggles with dyslexia.” Mary Judith never set out to make math her career. “I think I basically focused so much on just getting through school, and not getting labeled and teased, that I wasn’t so much centered on what I wanted to do in the future.” She did not set out to be a trailblazer, though she was the first girl in her family, and, in fact, in her school, to take the “math path.” She simply wanted to get a job, and she knew what she was good at: math.
“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle
Mary Judith first looked for a job as a high school teacher. But there were no jobs. She even looked in the obituaries. She found a dead history teacher in New Hampshire and called the school. “They told me not to send a resume because they already had over a thousand resumes. Well, so much for that!” A neighbor then told her about an MBA in Accounting program at Rutgers University. The program promised an internship, preparation for the CPA exam, and exposure to the “Big 8” accounting firms. “Mathematics,” explained Mary Judith, “made me happy because I felt capable, whereas before I felt good for nothing.” This is why she applied and eventually received an MBA/CPA from Rutgers University, despite discouragement and astonishment from her family. She went on to enjoy a successful early career at Haskins & Sells, now called Deloitte Touche. After she was married, she partnered with her husband, Paul, in the securities business as a registered principal. She continues to do this today.
Mary Judith’s ability to see patterns and trends that no one else sees has benefited countless numbers of people. She enjoys her current profession “more than ever” because she loves to help those who are not as adept and knowledgeable in math and in finance. “I believe I do have a gift that other people don’t have, and I will always be compassionate to those who don’t have that gift. I know what it feels like for something not to make sense. I try to share what I can with others, breaking down numbers so they can make sense.”
Nowadays, instead of “slow” or “lazy,” she is often called a role model. She likes this label a lot better. She believes “If you know/have a role model who is, or is perceived as, a superwoman, then people think, ‘Well, that’s not me, I can’t aspire to that.’ Many young girls still have the idea that to excel in math, you have to have Einstein’s brain, funny hair, ugly clothes, thick-rimmed glasses, and be quite boring and serious.” Mary Judith does not fit this stereotype very well. She is beautiful and charming, wears fashionable clothing, and loves having fun! She is an accomplished photographer, devoted wife, loving mother, and great friend. She is exactly what math needs as a spokeswoman for its cause and advancement for young girls. I am proud to say that Mary Judith Gedroiz is my aunt and role model, not just because of the obstacles she overcame, but because she is somebody that one day maybe I could become.
“…Two roads diverged in a wood,
and I, I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference…” – Robert Frost
About the Student:
My name is Nathalie Sieh. I am in 7th grade at St. Cecelia Interparochial School in Clearwater, Florida. My whole life, I have been the worst speller in my grade. At first, everyone thought that it was normal because I was so little. As the years passed, it got worse and worse. But, in 5th grade, I got the news that changed my life. I had dyslexia. My life changed so much that I thought it was ruined, only to find out later that it changed for the better. I realized that just because I have trouble with spelling and reading does not mean that I am bad at everything else, too. I am stronger in things that others are not. I love math. This summer I will attend a 3-week program at UC Berkeley called Math Zoom, which is a training program for mathematically gifted students.