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International Day of the Girl Child 2020: A Perspective from a modern-day Mathematician in STEM

On International Day of the Girl Child (October 11), the United Nations in Trinidad and Tobago is shining a light on a few monumental local women in STEM and encouraging everyone to speak up against systematic barriers and long-standing stereotypes that continue to keep girls from STEM careers. Read about Dr. Letetia Addison’s story and how she shaped her career in Mathematics.

Letetia completed her Doctorate in Mathematics at the University of the West Indies (UWI), in which she investigated the dynamics various mathematical models to investments. Previously, she pursued Master of Philosophy in Statistics, following a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics (Double Major, with First Class Honours). Her passion for both Mathematics and Statistics- related research is evident in her publications in both fields. She has over ten years’ experience lecturing a variety of tertiary level courses in Mathematics, Probability and Statistics. Letetia has also served as a Consultant on various Statistical projects and has been involved in Outreach activities such as Mathematics Fairs and STEM Research Symposiums.

Throughout my childhood, numbers have captivated my attention. My parents cultivated and supported this passion in me. My first mathematical toy was a colourful abacus, which is still quite vivid in my memory. This sparked my fascination with the field of Mathematics, and in particular, Statistics. I continued to pursue the field in secondary school, along with the Sciences subjects. For many years, there was an impression that males dominated these areas. As I entered University, the majority of my classes confirmed this to be true. However, this was not a deterrent and I appreciated the brilliance of my male counterparts in collaborations.

Subsequently, as my role has shifted from a student to that of an educator, the male dominance of the arena has been undeniable. While this aspect remains a main challenge, my experience as a female in this field has not felt completely gender biased. Undercurrents of nepotism do exist in any job environment with both genders, but the variation in individual expertise has been the main defining factor in my experience. My main motivation is perform the job at hand to the best of my abilities, without fear about gender disparity or bias. I believe my male counterparts have respected my mindset and work ethic in this sense.

I truly believe that women have quite a level of emotional intelligence, which adds value to the academic arena. It appears that more females are involved in Mathematics-related fields at tertiary level, and this proves there is a shift in the usual dynamics. A modern day STEM inspiration of mine is the actress and PhD graduate in Mathematics, Dr. Danika Mcellar, from one of my favourite television shows as a child called “The Wonder Years”. She has been an advocate for increasing the number of women in mathematics-related fields. Her drive inspires me to display the value of STEM for girls. After all, Mathematics is the backbone for all these fields.

Over the years, as a woman involved in a STEM field, I have truly appreciated the value of both Mathematics and Statistics in the modern world. From the use of scientific calculations and conversions in baking, to the current epidemic models and trends, to simply being able to tell time, Mathematics has proven that it is undeniably important. I encourage females to break any societal gender barriers in the development of a passion for the field of Mathematics. The power of the field lies in its relevance to everyday life. Our world cannot survive without it, and it has garnered my utmost respect.

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