Student Essay Contest

Wooden Computers Didn’t Stop Her

2018 AWM Essay Contest: Middle School Level Honorable Mention

By: Ayleen Acosta, Holton-Arms School (Bethesda, Maryland)

Denia Acosta grew up in the historical center of Havana, Cuba, in a time of political change and growth. During this time, her parents were both literature teachers who encouraged her to read and analyze works of writing. Even though she loved reading classical books, she realized that analyzing every story took the enjoyment out of reading, whereas with math, the more she learned, the more she liked it. Analyzing formulas and equations didn’t make math less interesting for her, but instead made it even more captivating. Now, Denia refers to math as something that will never fail her. She realized it was a new passion that would always be important in her life.
Going into college, Denia majored in computer science and had a minor in math. For her, it was hard to choose a major because even though she loved math, she hated physics. Computer science was her go-to choice when she realized she wouldn’t have to take a physics class. She later graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and Mathematics. As a computer scientist, her first job was to create programs to calculate how much water from subterranean levels can be used to make fresh water. This job gave her incredible opportunities to work with engineers and learn new mathematical functions. She soon switched jobs to create programs to manage inventory and sales in several stores. Essentially, this was her introduction to the world of accounting.
In 1998, in the midst of her career, Denia won the visa lottery and made the choice to leave Cuba. She moved to Miami, Florida. Living in the United States, she found it extremely difficult to find a job. Denia didn’t speak English so she had to adapt to not only a new culture, but a new language. As a computer scientist, she couldn’t find any jobs due to this language barrier. During job interviews, people would often make judgements about her background. One time a person even asked, “How did you learn about computers in Cuba, if the computers there are made of wood?” Denia felt completely insulted by this insinuation against technology in her country and began to feel that getting a job in her field was going to be much harder than she originally thought. People’s prejudice was a big obstacle, but math never failed her because numbers are internationally the same. She got a job as a secretary. During this time, her office was looking for people to manage the accounting department. She took the job, thinking that she had had some previous experience in Cuba. However, she was worried she wouldn’t like it. She thought that accounting would be a downgrade coming from computer science. Then, Denia realized this wasn’t a worse job, but a different one. She familiarized herself with new laws and theories she never knew about.
She discovered a bigger passion for accounting and was enthusiastic for learning new things about math. One of her struggles in her career was working in accounting for 15 years without actually studying it. Now, Denia is in the process of getting her bachelor’s degree in accounting, while balancing work and family. At work, she figures out how to reduce and control costs, price products, and make the most out of the resources the organization has. To do this, she negotiates with vendors, analyzes operations, and finds out which expenses can be reduced. She translates real world resources into numbers and formulas in order to determine the costs. She uses equations to formulate the final products and provides advice to her clients to increase their profits.
Denia encourages anybody who enjoys math to pursue a degree or job in the mathematical sciences. She also thinks it’s important to learn the basics of chess in order to develop an analytical mind. Being a woman working in the field of mathematical sciences, Denia encountered numerous rejections as a result of pursuing a career that was dominated by men. She thinks people shouldn’t feel put down by others’ opinions but follow their own dreams. She urges others to realize that not only men, but women, are also innovative intellectuals.
About the student:
My name is Ayleen Acosta and I’m in 7th grade at Holton-Arms. Since I was young I’ve always been very interested in math. I always tried to be the top student in all my math classes. I love solving algebraic equations, even though it is getting harder in Algebra 1. I love seeing how math relates to the outside world and I want to have a job that involves mathematics. In the future, I want to use math to solve first world problems. This project is very interesting to me because I got to see how women can use math in their everyday lives, which is something I aspire to do.