It started with rocks.
Janelle Walker, a math major at Medgar Evers College, recalls collecting rocks and separating them into groups of twos and threes as a childhood game with her father and her sister. It was a fun way to learn addition, subtraction and division. Ms. Walker still loves math and is headed to Harvard University in June for its highly selective Summer Program in Biostatistics and Computational Biology.
â€œWe know the stereotype behind women and math, so we put ourselves out there,â€ said Ms. Walker, a 21-year-old native of Jamaica. She discovered Medgar Evers after moving to Brooklyn and doing a Google search for nearby colleges. Medgar Evers has literally taken her far: she met important mathematicians this year during the math departmentâ€™s trip to Seattle for the Joint Mathematics Meetings, an annual worldwide conference.
â€œWe are nicely poised, in a number of ways,â€ said Dr. Terrence Blackman, the chair of the Mathematics Department. â€œHere, we try to answer question number one: can you do it? Yes, you can. Weâ€™re working to create a community of young, African-American scholars and other underrepresented people.â€
The faculty brings mathematicians to the college and connects students with jobs and internships. For the past several years its students have traveled to major math conferences. About 70 percent of the collegeâ€™s math majors are women, despite persistent negative stereotypes about the math abilities of women and their under-representation in math-related fields.
Ms. Walker was accepted at several summer research programs and chose Harvard because it brought together her Math major and her Environmental Science minor. This summer, she will learn about quantitative methods for biological, environmental and medical research, alongside Harvard faculty, researchers, and graduate students. She expects to complete her Bachelor of Science in the Mathematical Sciences this December and then pursue a graduate degree in Math.
The other day, Ms. Walker got together with her fellow math majors Patricia Roberts and Nikita Hutson, who also have big summer plans. Ms. Roberts, 24, is leaving in June for a two-month undergraduate research program at the University of California in Merced. Ms. Hutson, 21, will spend her summer working as a project manager intern for Visa in Ashburn, Va.
Math majors at Medgar Evers are â€œlike a little family,â€ Ms. Hutson said. Outside the college, people are curious about her interest in math, she said, and surprised that Medgar Evers has so many female math majors.
Ms. Roberts already has a bachelor degree in Psychology from Medgar Evers and expects to get her B.S. in math in 2017. Her goal is to be a research physician and to study diseases. She plans to earn a medical degree and a doctorate.
â€œDr. Blackman put a bug in my ear about the summer programs this year,â€ she said. â€œMy mom has ALS and I didnâ€™t want to leave her. He said â€˜leave her, come back, and youâ€™ll be in a better position to help her and others.â€™â€