Recently we caught up with Ivana Lee, a mathematic extraordinaire with a passion for fashion! She is a big role model for young girls as she stylishly paves the way forward encouraging everyone, young and old, to think differently towards Math. Her story is quite remarkable, having once failed Math in high school she became determined never to let that happen again! In true Bezlo Girl spirit she rose to the challenge, gained confidence and now LOVES Math! Her passion for Math grew so much she’s made an amazing career out of this subject! Here we learn more about her inspiring story.
Ivana you have a pretty cool job, tell us what you do?
I work at The College Board, an education organization, as a Senior Assessment Specialist in Mathematics. I write, edit, and review mathematics questions for the SAT, a college entrance exam that many students may take while applying to college. Prior to that, I was a Math Editor here at The College Board, working on SpringBoard, a full-curriculum instructional program for middle school and high school. It includes textbooks and eBooks, assessments, and other instructional resources that students and teachers use in the classroom. I love the work I do because our programs help give students the tools they need to be successful in college and careers.
Wow, impressive! How did you develop your passion for math?
I didn’t always love math. I failed math class my second year of high school, so naturally, my reaction was to hate it. As a teenage girl, there are many things that can contribute to low self-esteem, and failure was a huge one for me. I was always got good grades in school, so my first (and only) failure left me embarrassed, discouraged, and unconfident. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I suppose my failure also challenged me to work harder. Somehow, I worked my way up to AP (Advanced Placement) Calculus, a college-level calculus class, when I was in my final year of high school. With the support of a very encouraging teacher, I managed to get a high score on the AP exam, which allowed me to enter college with my math requirements already completed. For the first two years of college, I had no idea what I wanted to study. I took various classes in English, History, Theology, Sociology, Psychology, and Spanish, trying to discover my passion. I eventually realized that what I was missing was math, and ended up graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. The following year, I earned my Master’s degree in Education because I realized that I wanted to help students the same way my calculus teacher helped me.
How encouraging! The myth of “you are either good or bad at math” is totally false! It really is never too late to learn!
Never! When people find out what I do for work or that I love math so much, their response is often, “Oh wow! I’m not a math person…” To that, I always respond, “EVERYONE is a math person!” I think it is rather common for people who struggled in math to lose confidence in their mathematical abilities, leading them to think they are “bad at math”. Keep going! I was not always great at math either, but through the hard work that I put into trying to understand it, I learned to appreciate how utterly beautiful, perfect, and interesting it can be. Failure can often lead to success, and that success can lead to passion.
Absolutely! We couldn’t agree more! What is your favourite area of Math?
My favorite mathematics class in college was probably Modern Algebra, also known as Abstract Algebra. Think about an abstract painting of modern art. It’s a painting of something that doesn’t represent a particular object in real life. Multiple people can look at the same painting and have different interpretations of its meaning. There is no right or wrong interpretation.
In Modern/Abstract Algebra, actual numbers are rarely ever used, and there is no application of these concepts to tangible things in the real world, making it “abstract”. Let’s pretend that instead of a painting, there are multiple people viewing an abstract algebra problem in which a particular theorem must be proven. Contrary to the abstract painting, the abstract algebra problem does have a right or wrong answer. This is because the properties of math are so unflawed, they can even be applied to such “abstract” mathematical ideas 🙂 I think this is one of the reasons I find mathematics so beautiful.
Who is your favourite Mathematician of all time?
I would love to meet John Conway and have a conversation with him about The Game of Life. Google it. It’s pretty much the coolest thing ever, and YES, this is math. He seems like a really cool dude
It’s clear you love fashion too, can you tell us more about your style? Has math played a part in your style?
I live in New York City, so I’m constantly seeing fashion inspo from women I encounter in my day to day life. I find it hard to describe my personal “style,” because I really just wear whatever I like! When I go shopping, I don’t have ideas for a certain look that I am trying to achieve…I just pick things that I think look nice and might look nice on me. I like to be comfortable, but I also like to be stylish without being too over the top.
It’s actually hard to find clothing inspired by mathematics (which is why I am so excited to be a part of Hello Bezlo!), but I am always on the hunt for necklaces, rings, or earrings that showcase mathematics. I’m not sure if the accessories that I find were intentionally made with math in mind, but it’s fun to look for the math behind it!
What did you want to be when you were little?
I changed my mind a lot: veterinarian → fashion designer → chef → dentist → teacher.
What excites you most about your job?
I remember what it was like to be a high school student who struggled at math, so as I review the content in our materials, I think about what we can do to help those students who may be struggling as well. It’s also fun for us to think about how we can make the content interesting and relevant to students. When I review instructional materials, I try to think of ways to explain the math so that students get a better understanding of mathematical concepts. It’s more important to understand why math works the way it does, rather than how to solve a problem.
How do you think we can encourage more girls not to give up on math?
Exposure to female role models! I specifically use the phrase “exposure to” rather than “lack of” because there are so many brilliant women out there that girls can look up to. We just need to do more to promote these amazing women in our STEM workforce!
In addition to role models, students — especially female students — need encouragement. Although females may have above-average mathematical abilities, they tend to report low levels of mathematical confidence. They often compare themselves to their male classmates because math and science are (for some reason) viewed as “boy” subjects in our culture. Passionate teachers who nurture their students to believe in themselves, like my AP Calc teacher, are key in closing this gender gap.
Finally, if you could go back to give your ten year old self advice what would it be?
I’m totally stealing this line from GoldieBlox, a toy company aimed at promoting girls in STEM:
“There’s nothing wrong with being a princess, but girls can build their own castles, too.”
Hello Bezlo has an exciting collaboration in the works with Ivana, stay tuned to find out more! In the meantime check out her fabulous new website www.mathematicalmodels.org and followe her journey on Instagram and twitter