Tag Archive: Stanford

  1. Solve for XX

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    In Mr. Rumack’s seventh grade algebra class, we sat at tables that were too close, knees and elbows spilling over into the backs of each other’s chairs. Along with teaching math, Mr. Rumack directed all of our middle school’s theater productions. He had a quacking duck toy that he used to get our attention, and a rubber duck-patterned tie that he wore every Wednesday. Mr. Rumack pulled me aside one day while the rest of the class worked in groups, speaking in a stage whisper so that I could hear him over the chatter. “I don’t know what you think about math,” he told me, “But if you like it, I want you to know that I hope you pursue it. You’re good enough to do anything you want to do in math.”

    At the time, there were only four girls in my accelerated math class of 20 students, but I never noticed this imbalance. I didn’t know, as I know now, that women are underrepresented in math and in the sciences. I didn’t know that teachers like him had a reason to try to get girls like me excited about math. Though I suspect that my gender motivated him to encourage me that day — he didn’t, after all, similarly encourage any of the boys in our class — I am grateful that he didn’t make that fact obvious to me.

    At the time, my ignorance was a luxury — had I been more sensitive to the gender discrepancy in class, I might have felt less secure in my position in it. As important as it is for us to discuss the gender divide in math, we must be cautious with how we choose to address it. Sometimes, hyperawareness reinforces the very realities it seeks to combat.

    Organizations and companies that aim to make math more appealing to girls often do so by playing on gender stereotypes. The website of L’Oréal’s “For Girls in Science” campaign is dotted with photos of various makeup products, framed by pink and purple banners. Science-themed toys marketed toward girls often more closely resemble the accessories for a Bratz doll than anything found on a lab table. These products suggest to young women that they can’t do the same kind of science that boys can. Marketing to the (socially constructed) tastes of tween girls relies on an assumption that the only way to get girls involved in science is to make the tools of science aesthetically appealing to them — and that, by extension, the only thing girls are ultimately motivated by is the physically beautiful.

    The summer before my senior year in high school, I attended a math camp at Stanford. Every morning, we walked to lectures underneath red Spanish arches. In the afternoons, we sat at picnic tables and worked on problem sets in groups.

    “I didn’t think you’d be this good at math,” a boy told me once, after I had proposed a proof. His palms reached out toward me in what he thought was kindness, as he added, “Girls aren’t usually good at math.”

    While commentary on my interests is usually tied to my gender in a more subtle way — “It’s so great that you’re a girl in math!” — even encouragement that isn’t blatantly offensive can be damaging.

    Such words suggest that my gender somehow makes my academic interests more significant. They remind me that I am not the face of mathematics — and that no one who looks like me ever has been. I didn’t worry about being a woman in math until I realized that it was unusual to be a woman in math. I recall those words as I walk into math class, concerned that perhaps I should not have chosen to wear polka-dotted tights that day.

    I don’t want my being a woman in math to mean anything, but it does, simply because I am part of a certain kind of inheritance. My gender and choice of major will matter as long as women are underrepresented in the field, as long as anyone could still believe that, “Girls aren’t usually good at math.” I worry that I have some responsibility to be the proof that women can be remarkable at math — to be remarkable in a way that I fear I am not.

    The crucial truth of the matter, though, is that I shouldn’t have to be extraordinary at math to justify my pursuit of it. This, perhaps, is the problem perpetuated by much of the discussion of the gender gap: that girls should think they are held to some different standard. When we treat girls differently from boys, even when we do so to encourage them, we run the risk of making them believe that they have different capabilities. Girls can do math without being “girls in math.” Math — in its unshifting rules and patterns — isn’t gendered. Its truth is beyond humans, unmoved by the boundaries that confine us.

  2. Ivies, Stanford, MIT post record-low admit rates

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    It’s that time of year again — several colleges released their admissions decisions this week, sending hundreds of thousands of anxious high school students into either incredible elation or crushing disappointment.

    Seven out of the eight Ivy League schools posted all-time low acceptance rates for the class of 2017 yesterday, making for the most competitive admissions cycle in history. Yale accepted a record-low of 6.72 percent of its 29,610 applicant pool, and Harvard — the only Ivy more selective than Yale this year — saw its acceptance rate plummet down to a mere 5.79 percent.

    Columbia and Princeton reported rates of 6.89 percent and 7.29 percent, respectively, while Cornell, Brown and the University of Pennsylvania posted rates of 15.15 percent, 9.16 percent and 12.1 percent.

    The only Ivy League institution that reported an increase in its acceptance rate this year was Dartmouth, rising from 9.43 percent in 2012 to 10 percent yesterday.

    Outside of the Ivy cluster, MIT also reported an all-time low acceptance rate, admitting just 8.3 percent of its applicant pool. Over on the opposite coast, Stanford announced today that it accepted only 5.69 percent of its applicants — 2,210 students from a pool of 38,828 applications.

    The record-low admission rates this year continue the trend of increasing selectivity at top colleges nationwide. Experts interviewed were divided on the question of whether or not this trend will continue into future years.

  3. The Classicist

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    Boasting a Yale teaching career that spans back to 1990 when she first joined the faculty of the English department, Jane Levin GRD ’75 can always be found with a book in hand. The wife of Yale’s 22nd president and director of undergraduate studies for Directed Studies, the selective freshman humanities program, has been known among students for her immutable charm and quick wit. After meeting her husband in a freshman year English class at Stanford University in 1964, she crossed the pond in 1968 to garner an additional degree in English from Oxford University before arriving at Yale’s campus for graduate school two years later. Bound for the coasts of California this fall as her husband steps down from the presidency to begin his sabbatical at Stanford conducting research, Levin looks forward to joining her children on the West Coast and beginning the next chapter of her life, characterized by further academic exploration and a bucket list filled with mountain-trekking expeditions.

    Q. How did you enter into academia?

    A. I met Rick at Stanford. We got engaged in December of our senior year. People did things like that back then, which seems ridiculous now. Rick had an idea that we should apply for all these fellowships, so we went to Oxford for two years. I had a Fulbright and the next step was to apply to graduate school, so we came to Yale as graduate students in the fall of 1970. When I finished my degree, I decided at that point that we had one child and our second child was born two weeks after our dissertation, so basically, for the next fifteen years, I stayed home with kids.

    Q. If you could have dinner with any writer, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

    A. I’m not really sure — but Proust makes a very interesting point. The social person you meet is not the same as the person writing the book. I think of all the books that I love I’m not exactly sure that I would want to meet the author. The part of them that interests me lives in their book.

    Q. Who are your favorite authors?

    A. Obviously Homer, Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Wordsworth, Milton and Shakespeare, of course.

    Q. What are your favorite lines of Shakespeare?

    A. There are a lot of great lines from “As You Like It,” like when Rosalind says “Oh how full of briars is this workaday world!“ The man was a complete genius. There are just a million heartbreaking lines of Shakespeare, my god.

    Q. Print or digital?

    A. I personally like to have a book in my hands. I like to interact with a book when I read it and underline in pencil. I have a visual memory, so I remember things on the left hand side or the right hand side of a page. Rick had a Kindle and an iPad, but I find reading on that to be so uniform. For my DS sections, I have yellow Post-its on pages that I want to turn to in class and old copies of books in which almost every line is underlined by now.

    Q. What talent would you most like to have?

    A. I think it would either be to be able to sing or play a musical instrument. I played the piano for many years when I was young. The good thing about piano is that you play it by yourself — but it would also be very cool to play the cello or be part of an ensemble or quartet. I like baroque music, like Bach and Vivaldi, but I love Beethoven, too. And then Dylan, the Heart of the Order, the Beatles — all the music of the sixties, which is obviously the golden age of music. I am also a big Taylor Swift fan, as all of my students will say. I actually have “Red” in my car right now. Our youngest daughter first introduced me to her many albums. I like all of the early albums, too. It would also be cool to be athletic. When it comes to anything that requires hand-eye coordination, I’m lost. When you get to my age, you get credit for just the fact that you’re doing it.

    Q. What do you do on your days off?

    A. I don’t think of exactly having days off. We are always doing Yale things. When the weather is better, we go biking on the weekends on the bike trail in Hamden. We’ve been doing it for a couple years. It’s about a 20-mile loop through Cheshire. We always stop by the Starbucks on the Hamden plaza. But I mean, I guess the main thing that we do is visit our four children and seven grandchildren on the West Coast. That’s where we are going over break. We also go trekking in the Alps over the summer. It’s not mountain climbing by any means. I mean, hiking only requires putting one foot in front of the other. But we go over a pass between eight and 10 thousand feet high with guides. We do that every summer. We’ve done Montblanc where the Matterhorn is. In the summer, I swim every day. If I swam any more slowly, I wouldn’t be moving. The swim team would get a kick out of that, you know. We don’t get to go into New York very often because of Rick’s schedule, but we just went to Peter Martin’s production of “Sleeping Beauty.” It’s the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. We always go to the New York City Ballet to see “The Nutcracker” at Christmas time and now we take all of our grandchildren. We actually had a bus full of people between our kids and our grandchildren. There were 31 of us.

    Q. What is on your bucket list for life after Yale?

    A. We are going to be at Stanford for the fall quarter. The one thing we are thinking about is a trek on the Himilayas. The other place we would like to trek is in Patagonia. But we’re getting older, and the mountains aren’t getting lower, so we have to think about it.

    Q. What is your favorite comfort food?

    A. Chai latte with extra foam at Starbucks. I go at the end of every day to the Starbucks right on the corner of Chapel and High street. That is my indulgence, my treat. They know my order because I get the same thing every day. Sometimes when I feel like I want to live large, I get a venti instead of a grande. And yes, I have a Starbucks card.

    Clarification: March 13

    A previous version of this article stated that University President Richard Levin would assume a Stanford professorship in the fall. While Levin will be a visiting professor at Stanford during the fall semester as he conducts sabbatical research there, he will remain a member of Yale’s faculty.