Monday, March 8, 2010

Math and Sociology? Yes, it Happens.

As I frequently do on my travels, I seek out evidence of public math awareness. Today, I encountered a student studying mathematics at a Starbucks I frequent and I conducted a quick interview. “Rebecca” is a student at a local community college called Santa Monica College. She is studying sociology and is required to take two math classes for the major: Finite Mathematics (which I knew as Combinatorics at UCLA), and also Statistics. It makes good sense that math is required for classes in the social sciences since most of these areas require the analysis of data to infer human behavior.

I asked Rebecca if math came easy to her, but she was quick to reply “No, I have to work at it.” Although she took pre-Calculus in high school, she still has to work hard to get by with college level math. To succeed, she’ll frequent the professor’s office hours (one of the Physics Groupie’s earlier recommendations for math success), and also attend a free math lab at SMC that is conducted by UCLA mathematics graduate students.

I inquired about whether she felt her math classes and experience with math in school had a gender bias towards males, but she indicated she hadn’t noticed any of that and that her current Finite Math class was evenly distributed with males/females. This is interesting. It’s the first time I’ve talked to a female who hasn’t acknowledge the math gender differentiation. Well, actually that’s a good thing. Maybe things are changing ever so slightly in favor of gender neutrality for mathematics. I’ll cross my fingers on that one.

I got a sense from chatting with Rebecca that math is just a tool, a means to an end for fulfilling her degree requirements and to transfer to UCLA at some point. She wasn’t aware of any additional math she’d be required to take at UCLA, but agrees it would be a good idea to find out.

It is great to encounter math while roaming about town. I’ll report more as I stumble across it!

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