Math Prize for Girls event held virtually

At MIT’s October Math Prize for Girls event, this year held virtually, 307 students from around the country.

The weekend featured a panel talk moderated by Dr. Ranu Boppana ’87, and featuring four Math Prize alumnae, including mathematics and computer science major Rona Wang ’22. A 2015 Math Prize alum, Wang shared her experience:

Rona Wang
Rona Wang

“In ninth grade, I walked into my high school’s math club and saw that I was the only girl. I didn’t go to another math club meeting for the rest of the school year. When I learned about Math Prize for Girls, it sounded like such a wonderful opportunity to meet other girls who loved math. I had no contest math experience, but I saved up to buy some books and eventually qualified for MPFG my senior year of high school. It was an eye-opening weekend; I’d never met so many brilliant, curious girls with the same interests as me. I’m still in touch with some of the peers I met.

“After I came to MIT, I struggled with impostor syndrome—other students had a lot more exposure than me, and I felt lost especially as a humanities major who still wanted to learn math. My sophomore year, I started writing a coming-of-age novel inspired by my high school and college experiences with math. It’ll be published by Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers in 2022.  

“To help other students find a home within the department, I started doing more advocacy, by founding a group for queer mathematicians and starting a mentorship program for undergraduate women in math.

“To be honest, when I was asked to speak as a panelist for MPFG this year, I was really surprised. When I was a high school student, I was a total fangirl over the MPFG alumna who spoke at the competition. In my mind, those women were so much more accomplished, so much better at math than me. I never thought I’d one day be up there, too. 

“I don’t fit the profile of a stereotypically successful math student; I’ve never done math research or a technical internship. But I hope that through my work, younger students who don’t ‘fit the profile’ know that they belong and are so, so important. 

I wouldn’t be who I am today without MPFG; huge thanks to them for everything.”

The two math presentations were by Georgia Tech Professor Dr. Dana Randall, “Counting DominoTilingsof a Chessboard: An Introduction to Counting and Sampling” and Dr. Ioana Dumitriu, Professor at UC San Diego and MIT Math PhD ’03, “Playing 20 questions with a liar—a window into basic coding theory.

She was joined by Chemistry alum Lily Chen ’16. The weekend also featured virtual campus tours and chats, networking opportunities, and alumnae sharing their experiences since graduating from high school. Sunday’s Maryam Mirzakhani Celebration of Women in Mathematics featured speeches by Advantage Testing Foundation President Arun Alagappan and Harvey Mudd College President Dr. Maria Klawe.

The Advantage Testing Foundation Math Prize for Girls is the largest math prize for girls in the world. Each fall at MIT, nearly 300 young female mathematicians compete in our challenging test of mathematical creativity and insight. Its goal is to promote gender equity in the STEM professions and to encourage young women with exceptional potential to become mathematical and scientific leaders.