In her role as a Hispanic, female mathematician, Jessica Deshler knows that she is not in the majority in her field. Through her personal experiences and her recent award-winning research she is now empowering unrepresented groups to pursue careers in the field of mathematics.
Deshler, an assistant professor of math specializing in mathematics education, was recently awarded the Mathematical Association of America’s Tensor Award. The Tensor Award is awarded to the institution of the project director of a program which encourages female college students, as well as high school and middle school aged girls, to study mathematics, and learn more about possible careers in the field. WVU, according to Deshler, is the perfect host school for this project because of its dedication to underrepresented groups as illustrated in the University’s 2020 Strategic Plan for the Future.
“Our intention is to make the Math 155 class a better learning experience for all students, but specifically for women and underrepresented students who may not have had the exposure to the usefulness of math in society that we hope to bring into the classroom,” Deshler said.
Deshler’s research will be put to the test this fall in more than 10 sections of Math 155; the non-engineering sections of the calculus course.
“What we hope is that the classroom will be a more responsive environment for how different students learn and it will show the usefulness of the content we teach to a greater population of students,” Deshler explained. “We hope to encourage them to go further in the study of mathematics and ultimately prepare a more mathematically sophisticated generation of college students for the workforce.”
Deshler also received a WVU ADVANCE Sponsorship Award which allowed her and her team to collaborate with gender theorists on why female college students are few and far between in the mathematics field. This research led Deshler to focus on making the calculus course more interesting for female students by using real world examples of how studying math is practical.
She notes that women gravitate towards majors that are more nurturing or that they feel will have more of an impact on society.
“As mathematicians and educators we need to show students that math has a beneficial impact on society beyond calculating velocity or building a bridge,” she said. “For example, math figures heavily in a variety of fields from the study of the development of new treatments for cancer to space travel and city planning.
Deshler, who is married with four young children, also hopes to serve as a role model for students. As a graduate student, she had the opportunity to work closely with an adviser who understood the necessary balancing act of raising a family while working toward a degree.
“I have graduate students now who have children and I want to be that same type of role model; one that shows you can have a family and have a career. You just have to learn to balance it all.”
The overall outcome of the research project will be a collection of discussion materials for educators geared towards underrepresented groups applicable to math courses across the board at WVU and beyond. Deshler is hoping that it will be evident that the project helped students in the areas of attitude, interest and performance in math.
“Math is that subject that a lot of people fear and have anxiety with, so we really want to make sure that we can overcome that as much as possible,” she said. “Ultimately we want math to be accessible and interesting for all our students.”
For more information about this research, contact Jessica Deshler at Jessica.Deshler@mail.wvu.edu.
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