2015 AWM Essay Contest: Honorable Mention: High School Category
By Coreena Chan, Central York High School
“What do you want to do with your life?”
If you asked this question to a typical high school student, you’d quite likely be met with an uncomfortable shrug and hesitant smile; you might even receive a blunt response with an intonation surely indicating uncertainty. Most current adults would agree that the future was rather elusive during their high school years. Who was to know what would come? For Mary Menges, however, a teacher at Central York High School, her path was always clear.
Mary knew she wanted to pursue a career in the mathematical sciences by the time she was eight years old, much earlier than your ordinary student. While the majority of her second grade classmates were struggling to understand fractions and mixed numbers, Mary just “got it.” For her, it was simple. As Mary assisted her friends in mastering different mathematical concepts, her passion was realized: She loved helping other people do math.
From then on, Mary dedicated her life and education to following her dream of teaching mathematics. At Zion Benton High School in Illinois, she signed up for as many mathematical courses as she possibly could, eventually completing the highest mathematics course offered there. It was in that Calculus course that she met Paul Paulson, the teacher that would come to be one of the most influential individuals of her life. Despite attending high school in a time where gender roles were commonly accepted, Paulson “never made [Mary] feel bad for being a girl.” In fact, “he brought out the best in [her].”
As she grew older, Mary certainly noticed the lack of female mathematics teachers throughout her secondary education. Moreover, it wasn’t rare for her school’s guidance counselors to inform female students that they weren’t fit to take certain math classes or pursue mathematical careers. Undeterred by the sexism surrounding her interest in math, Mary pushed back. She became the most outspoken female in her math classes. She said herself, “I didn’t see anything wrong with girls doing math.”
Mary recalls that, during her younger years, it was her parents that served as the foundation for her determination in entering the field of mathematical sciences. Her parents, Lawrence and Nova, influenced many of the decisions she made by supporting her and never giving up on her. After all, her parents valued education above most things, and they wanted their children to have the best education possible. Mary’s mother was the first in her entire family to graduate from high school, so it was an incredible achievement for Mary and both of her siblings to attend college after receiving their high school diplomas.
Mary continued her journey to becoming a math teacher at Taylor University in Indiana, where she worked towards a degree in Education. Though she maintained a GPA of 4.0, Mary left college after her sophomore year to get married. With her new husband, Bryan Menges, she moved to California, effectively upsetting her parents back in Illinois. Even with her passion for mathematics, Mary was admittedly young, in love, and spontaneous. Subsequently, the couple moved to back Pennsylvania, where Bryan was originally from.
Knowing that she wouldn’t be happy with herself if she didn’t, Mary continued her pursuit for a career in teaching mathematics in at York College of Pennsylvania. By the time she graduated in 1997 with a degree in Education, she had three children. Approximately four years later, she graduated magna cum laude from Pennsylvania State University with a master’s degree in Education.
Currently, Mary works at Central York High School in York, Pennsylvania teaching trigonometry and precalculus to high school students. In her own words, Mary describes her job as “helping students understand math” and “teaching them ways to apply what they learn.” Her style of teaching also lends itself to her main objective in teaching mathematics: She wants her students to know that it’s not always just about the math. According to Mary, “It’s about learning how to think and thinking logically.”
Not surprisingly, teaching math isn’t Mary’s only interest. In her free time, she enjoys playing various musical instruments, including the flute and the piano. She also frequently sings, reads, cooks, and participates in church activities. Though her three sons are all grown up now, Mary loves to spend time with her family.
When queried about advice for students interested in careers in the mathematical sciences, Mary was not shy about giving suggestions and reassuring encouragement. She recommends that interested students enroll in as many math classes as possible and seek help whenever they need it. “Don’t give up. You see, some people give up too easily when they hit a roadblock. So, don’t give up. Just do it.”
About the Student
My name is Coreena Chan, and I am a senior at Central York High School in York, Pennsylvania. I am planning on majoring in Biology wherever I go to college, since I would like to go to medical school to become a physician. As a doctor, I will need to be able to understand different mathematical concepts, many of which I will use daily. I have taken all of the math courses required at my high school, as well as an additional Calculus course at a local college and Advanced Placement Statistics. I hope to meet a female mathematics professor in college who is just as inspiring as Mary Menges.
Some essays have been modified for posting on the AWM website.