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Girls in Maths

Our Girls in Maths event is put on in memory of Joana Burns- a former Sheffield Hallam maths student who unfortunately passed away shortly after completing her degree.

Friday 22 February 2019

Our Girls in Maths event is put on in memory of Joana Burns- a former Sheffield Hallam maths student who unfortunately passed away shortly after completing her degree. Her ambition was to be an inspiring maths teacher for young girls. During her final year thesis she looked at the difference in enrolment of the genders onto higher education maths degrees. She found that although males and females achieved very similar grades during GCSE maths, females were not inclined to follow this pathway into higher education, and she postulated that this was due to girls underestimating their abilities, and that raising aspirations should be a key goal in curriculum enhancement. Indeed the 2016/2017 enrolment data from HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) shows that of the 43,880 students that registered onto a maths degree in the UK only 37% of these were female.

Girls in Maths taster day at Hallam

On the 17th January we welcomed on campus 105 Y9-10 pupils from 8 HEPPSY+ schools to a day of exciting maths workshops and talks. The day provided an insight into how maths could be used in real world examples, the sort of careers which would need maths graduates and also a taster of student life at SHU.

The Cryptography workshop started off with students cracking a code via the frequency of letters used in the English language, this progressed onto using cipher algorithms to solve what words a series of numbers corresponded to. Why is this useful outside of the classroom? Many of these techniques are used for data security and protection in banking, computing and phone technology. Whilst half the students were puzzling over codes the other half were learning about how biological mathematicians use modelling and formulas to predict the spread of disease. How many days would it take to infect the world’s population with an unknown disease? The future of biological experimentation will rely heavily on computer simulations and mathematical modelling, and this highlights the inter-connectivity of many of the STEM routes.

Closing the day

Our external speaker, Dr Aoife Hunt, from Movement Strategies (a company specialising in the movement of people) ended the fantastic day with an inspirational tour of what her working life consists of. Whether it was standing outside Canadian airport toilets to time how long people take, to working with architects to computer simulate an evacuation of people from an American Football stadium, her work life is varied and on the face of it doesn’t appear to be mathematical. However, using an imaginary event-Maths Fest 2019- she highlighted how simple graphs such as normal distribution curves or quadratic equations are used to predict the dynamic nature of crowds, including the speed people walk, the flow rates and how long a purchase may take. Maths is therefore an essential component in ensuring health and safety at music concerts, sports event, evacuations of large buildings and airport terminals.

It has been predicted that the number of STEM graduates will need to increase by 40% in the coming years to meet the employment demand. The Girls in Maths day aimed to raise the aspirations of young girls to consider a career in maths by showing them the applications it can be used for. Maths provides students with a wealth of knowledge for numerous careers, including skills in problem solving, fast and creative thinking, logical arguments and critical analysis. Where could maths take us in the future?

This post was written by Clair Fellows, Graduate Intern at Sheffield Hallam University

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