‘Girls Talk Math’ through problems and podcasts at UNC summer camp

A group of 35 high school girls tackled college-level math problems and the history of female mathematicians in a recent two-week summer camp in UNC’s Phillips Hall.

Francesca Bernardi and Katrina Morgan, mathematics Ph.D. candidates in the College of Arts & Sciences, founded Girls Talk Math last year as a way to encourage young women to explore mathematics beyond the usual curriculum and to consider its practical applications.

“What makes this camp different from other math camps is that we tried to blend not only challenging mathematics, which is the focus of this camp, but also highlight the history of women mathematicians who have done important work that is not featured in textbooks,” said Bernardi.

The program is funded by the Mathematical Association of America’s Tensor Women and Mathematics grant, which is awarded to projects that encourage women to study mathematics. Bernardi and Morgan applied for the grant through the UNC chapter of the Association for Women in Mathematics, of which Bernardi is president. The chapter has been recently recognized as the inaugural recipient of the AWM Student Chapter Award for Community Outreach.

“This opportunity to be in this community of other young girls is something that really appeals to them about the camp. They don’t necessarily get that at school; you’re often one of the few girls expressing interest,” said Morgan.

The campers work on a variety of problem sets in smaller groups. The problems, which range from knot theory to quantum mechanics, were developed from UNC doctoral students’ own research and interests. During lecture sessions, students get a taste of more: from a professional panel showing a range of math applications to a presentation by Appalachian State University professor Sarah Greenwald, who discussed the representation of women and math in popular culture.

Cameron Farrar, a rising senior at Carrboro High School, is returning for a second year. “I feel like we teach math in a way for students to just memorize how to do math, but not what to think about when you’re doing it. I never had an opportunity to see that other side until I came to Girls Talk Math,” said Ferrar.

Their work culminated in a series of blog posts and podcasts featuring female mathematicians the students had researched. Bernardi hopes that by making these available online, it will also benefit other girls who may not be able to attend this sort of camp.

“We want to encourage them to see this as something they can do, something they can be successful at, and that they should not be discouraged by stereotypes,” said Bernardi.


Learn more at girlstalkmath.web.unc.edu. Listen to the podcasts on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/girls-talk-math/id1171540798


Story, photos and video by Kristen Chavez ’13