Student Essay Contest

Breaking Barriers – A Mathematical Journey

2017 AWM Essay Contest: Middle School Level Winner

By: by Asmi Kumar Northwestern Middle School (Milton, Georgia)

What would one be willing to do for her love of math? Intrigued by the subject so very much, Suzy Crowe went to the extent of sneaking into college classes to immerse herself in the number world – most definitely, not many can make that claim! Suzy, now a teacher, has helped students of various ages and talents grow, succeed, and reach their highest potentials.
Anything mathematically-oriented, even to a mild degree, tends to spark Suzy’s interests. She believes that math is a universal language, and finds joy in working at seemingly intractable problems. The regular rushes of buzzing excitement she experiences along the way have become here favorite forms of exercise.
During our conversation, Suzy described how anyone can use a principled thinking to generate order from chaos. She says, “I find that math and everything that has math woven into it is really fun and beautiful and exciting! I love to help people realize all the things you can do with math.” Despite the fear or general distaste several students have for math, Suzy reinforces that math underlies just about everything. She loves seeing people bond over math and engage their creative sides.
As a girl, Suzy went to the local high school in her home state of Georgia, residing in a rural town. After graduating from high school, she attended Florida State University. Math was always something Suzy was extremely passionate about throughout her childhood, high school, and career. Another one of Suzy’s loves was music. Because of music’s relationship with mathematics, Suzy was encouraged to apply for a music major. Music majors were very time- consuming and Suzy’s college did not allow her to have a minor of any kind – but she was not satisfied. She could not bear the thought of throwing math away! So, Suzy made her decision and
took an “illegal overload” by sneaking in daily to listen in on math lectures and participate in classes.
However, while in college, she noticed that the gender ratio of girls to boys was minute. In both Suzy’s math and music classes, there were not many women. Girls often stayed away from advanced math classes and brass instruments like the french horn. Eventually, Suzy became accustomed to being one of few girls in her classes. She interacted with the boys and was usually accepted, but sometimes it was difficult for her.
So, Suzy and I turned to the story of her grandmother, one she looks back upon when she finds herself in difficult situations. Suzy’s grandmother attended the University of Georgia (UGA), and was part of the first UGA graduating class to have girls within it. Females and males in academia were often not treated equally, even within the classroom amongst teachers. Though Suzy’s grandmother was hoping to graduate with a degree in physics as she had taken all the required classes for it, she could not be granted a diploma. Suzy’s grandmother was thrown aback with a heartbreaking remark – “no woman shall ever graduate from the University of Georgia with a degree in physics.” As a result, Suzy’s grandmother was forced to graduate with a Home Economics degree. A small part of her initially remained unsatisfied, but by instilling in Suzy that nothing should be able to stop her from realizing the power of mathematics, she came to terms with the situation. In part due to the guidance her grandmother delivered, Suzy has worked hard to bridge the gender gap and takes pride in helping other women who want to pursue careers in the mathematical sciences. Eventually, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree in music education and an unofficial – though well-deserved – minor in mathematics. However, Suzy never gave up on mathematics, and her college experiences served as stepping stones for her ongoing mathematical career.
After college, Suzy taught math and started a music program at a K-8 school in Tennessee. Later, computer science, its heavy tie with math, and its enthralling concepts captivated Suzy, and she soon got a degree in the subject. She learned to weave mathematics into other disciplines, such as music. Many of Suzy’s accomplishments came from her love of teaching math. She started the robotics program at Milton High School, at which she currently teaches. This helped her achieve one of her main goals: for students to learn how to tap into math through technology. A past student of Suzy’s says that what he took away from her teaching the most was how to tackle a problem prior to solving it, whether it be math-related or not. This student is now performing cancer research and enjoys it. Suzy really loves seeing people grow and rise to their full potentials, and frequently checks in with former students. Notably, this past year, Suzy earned the prestigious National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT) Aspirations in Computing Educator Award.
While teaching classes in computing and mathematics, Suzy stimulates students’ brains by including current research and real-life applications within lessons. Suzy resolved to learn something new every day, and frequently gains insights while sewing, reading, and experimenting with wearable technology such as light-up bracelets. She also loves to build robots, frequently solving combinatorics problems to design algorithms to program the small machines. Other of Suzy’s hobbies include decorating and designing rooms in her home. In general, she is attracted to hands-on, engineering-based activities. She likes to stir up more fun in the kitchen with cooking π-shaped pies and baking Pascal-triangle-inspired cookies!
What advice does she have for students? Bright-eyed, she says, “it’s simple – find your passion. Follow it to the stars. Dream on.” Suzy tells her students that it is of utmost importance to retain confidence in their capabilities and future goals. Suzy believes that “there’s not really anything you can’t do with math.” If one thinks that math is too hard for him or her and that he or she doesn’t have the capability to do it, Suzy responds with a deliberate “false!”. She recommends, “by working hard at it, you may find yourself loving such an important subject.” Suzy has met many young women who are intimidated by mathematics because of what has been said to them. Suzy assures, “Don’t take it as an insult. Take it as an opportunity to show that person how amazing you can be and that they thought wrongly of you. Never let what people say sway you from your passions.”
Suzy Crowe is a big inspiration for many young women and all her students. Her main message shines through clearly – go for it!
About the Student:
My name is Asmi Kumar, and I attend Northwestern Middle School in Milton, GA. I have been involved in math from a young age, and enjoy and succeed in competitions such as MATHCOUNTS and the American Mathematics Competition. I am a winner of the national MathMovesU contest, from which I gained several mathematical, statistical, and analytical modeling skills. I recently completed a year-long effort to develop a Python-based disease spread model, loosely based on the principles of Conway’s Game of Life. I also enjoy playing the piano, and have performed at Spivey Hall multiple times. Admittedly, shooting hoops in the basketball court is something I could do all day long, but sometimes life gets in the way! For the future, I hope to go to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and aspire to become a data scientist or computer engineer.