How a Team of High-School Girls Brought Over 100 Girls Together for a Math Competition
When they first kickstarted their plan in September 2018, founders Joy Shi, Emmy Song, Stephanie Wang, Laura Yao, and Ashley Ye had no idea that their InteGIRLS competition would inspire such excitement both locally and nationally. The first annual InteGIRLS Competition was hosted at Montgomery College on May 18th from 10am-4pm. More than 100 high school and middle school girls attended the competition to test their skills at this all-girl event.
But where did the idea come to create this unique event? Founder Joy Shi says that her inspiration came from the sense of being the “only girl” involved in math competitions when she started her high school studies, “I wanted to do whatever I could to help girls like me in my area and hopefully beyond.” With each math competition, the disparity between the amount of boys and girls continued to grow and with it, these girl’s inspiration to create something to inspire more girls.
According to the American Mathematical Society, only 27 percent of math-related PhDs were awarded to women in 2015–2016 in the United States. This low number speaks volumes about the difficulties for girls who are interested in STEM subjects. Many of these subjects, particularly engineering and physics, are portrayed as being male-only subjects. Another problem facing girls who are interested in STEM is the lack of knowledge about role models. Joy Shi points out that while the accomplishments of Einstein, Pythagora, and Fermat are widely known — the work of Marie Curie and Maryam Mirzakhani are less so.
Female Representation in STEM Fields
Although there have been huge strides in female representation across the board in recent years, women involved in the STEM fields have faced their own form of discouragement and alienation. Another member of the inteGIRLS team, Amanda Liu echoed that same sentiment, acknowledging that “I was very aware of the stigma against females in STEM. To me, inteGIRLS is a forum to provide girls with a math community I wish I had in middle school.”
A community such as the one inteGIRLS has created provides that community and an event girls can continue to attend on a yearly basis, maintaining those friendships and their own inspiration to follow along a STEM pathway. In fact, next year’s inteGIRLS competition is already set to take place in 2020.
Setting up InteGIRLS
Like any event, inteGIRLS started with people. Both founders, Stephanie Wang said her main motivation was to make sure girls don’t “become accustomed to that situation where they’re the odd one out” while Emmy Song said she is passionate about inteGIRLS “because it inspires younger girls to believe in themselves and what they can do.” These girls along with their other team mates began to get serious about inteGIRLS with the support of Dr. Ravi Boppana, the Director of Advantage Testing Foundation and an MIT Researcher. With his support, the team set up an independent organization, and began finding a venue. By the actual conference itself, inteGIRLS had 25 corporate sponsors which helped them obtain funding and support. Victoria Xin, the Panel Chair, began to contact panelists while Emmy Song along with Pravalika Putalapattu and Ivy Liang set up the problems for the event.
Our team then got in touch with the Math Department Director at Montgomery College Rockville, Dr. Ben Nicholson, and secured an entire floor from Montgomery College’s new Science building for no cost with the help of former Montgomery College student, Julia Yang. With this group of hard-working women at the helm, it was time for the InteGIRLS outreach team — Laura Yao, Amanda Liu, Lucinda Zhou, and Ashley Ye — to begin reaching out to local schools and social media to attract more participants.
During the contest itself, inteGIRLS attracted a wide range of volunteers, the attention of local news and even local government representatives, State Representatives Lily Qi, Kathleen Dumais and County Executive Marc Elrich.
What will the future bring?
When asked about the future, Joy Shi acknowledged that developing skills in mathematics takes longer than one year. That is why she along with her teammates plan to create math practice circles, which will give girls the opportunity to practice for free in an all-girls environment beyond the metro DC area. Already looking towards expansion, InteGIRLS is also looking to create a branch in Seattle in the future and to establish contacts with Math in the Mail, a mathematical program for three-year-olds.
In the words of Joy Shi at the first annual inteGIRLS competition, “Until our national math competitions, STEM college faculty, and the Fortune 500 list will equally represent boys and girls, men and women, we’ll keep fighting, and keep having inteGIRLS, not only to give you all a chance to do math in an all-girls environment but also to inspire you to continue doing math and to become amazing leaders and game-changers in the future.”