Summer 2018

STEM & Grit

By Elizabeth Vrinten

“What’s your subject area? No ... don’t tell me ... English?” asked a professor one evening.                                 

I shook my head, and said, “No. Math.”

“Oh. You don’t really look like a math person,” she replied. What does a math person look like, and why do I not look like one? I did what every scientist is taught to do. I Googled it. Not “What does a math person look like?” specifically, but “Percentages of women with Ph.D.s. in STEM fields,” and then, “Percentages of women who teach high school science courses.” As results popped up, her comment made sense.

Only 39 percent of STEM Ph.D.s. are held by women, according to Scientific American, and 54 percent of high school science teachers are women, according to The National Academies Press. Though this is more than half, it is still considered low by comparison, since education is a heavily female field. Statistically, to be a scientist is to be male.

As I continued researching, I was confronted with statistics, measurements and facts that all seemed to say, “You do not belong here,” a thought I have had to work hard to overcome since I discovered my love of math and science back in high school.                                      

But as I researched, I was also reminded of why I love science. Measurements, facts and research all point to a specific answer, and once we identify the answer, we can use the information to promote change. Looking at the information in front of me, I was faced with a choice — should I let data overwhelm me and run, or should I persevere despite statistics that say I may fail? I chose, and always will choose, to persevere. Statistics inform, but they do not dictate.                                    

Why do I love science and math? They are not easy subjects to love, that is for sure. But my love comes from the things they have instilled in me. In my experience, science is a form of worship. In the order of the universe, we see our Creator’s care. The universe we live in is a testament to his glory, and the fact that we can study the universe is a testament to his desire to be known.                                           

Studying math has also cultivated serious grit in my life. It is not an easy road (but then neither is any major, for that matter). There are hard assignments, long reports and late nights studying. There are also added frustrations of being a woman in a male-dominated major. However, I have learned the value of hard work and tenacity. I have also learned the value of female community and solidarity among women who study science.        

In my time at Biola, I have gotten to know incredible women studying science and math. Through them, I have learned everything from study skills to how to apply for internships. They model tenacity and determination. Through the scholarship of female professors, I have been encouraged and inspired to continue my education in scientific fields. They have shown me that success is built on having the determination to keep going, even when there may not be an end in sight.                                            

Studying science has also taught me the value of failure. Failure is not a death sentence, but a chance to start again and rebuild with a stronger foundation. As frustrating as bombing a test is, it is an opportunity to reevaluate your strengths and weaknesses and find new ways to study that work for you.                                 

As I researched female math teachers, one statistic jumped out at me: Women who have female math and science teachers are more likely to pursue math and science. My passion for science education was strengthened by this statistic. As a teacher, I have the opportunity to show young women that they belong in the sciences.

This issue’s Last Word comes from GRIT, an online resource collective for women. This adapted article was originally posted on Feb. 19, 2018.

Elizabeth Vrinten is a senior majoring in math with a concentration in secondary education and a member of the Torrey Honors Institute.


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