Ameliorating Stem Gaps
“MoMath wants to be the symphony of mathematics,” says Cindy Lawrence, founder and executive director of the National Museum of Mathematics, North America’s only mathematics museum. Lawrence notes that a child can hear a symphony and become inspired to be a musician, but before this museum came into being, there was no way to generate the same degree of enthusiasm about mathematics. Now, Lawrence tells stories of parents dragging children out of the museum crying because they don’t want to leave. Often, these same children didn’t want to come to a math museum in the first place.
Lawrence became involved with MoMath after meeting Glen Whitney, a fellow founder of the museum, at her temple. She considers her work with MoMath to be a part of tikkun olam, repairing the world.
Lawrence is very aware of the gender gap that exists in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and has made it part of MoMath’s DNA to work towards addressing these inequities. “We need to have more role models and display more role models,” she says. Additionally, Lawrence has investigated ways to make exhibits more inclusive to girls, such as making clear the social value and impact of the math being described. Lawrence also tries to make sure that none of the exhibits seem like they’re targeted only towards boys. For instance, one display was originally focused on railroads. Given that this is often gendered as male, Lawrence changed the display to feature beavers in a forest. She notes with satisfaction that children of all genders happily interact with the exhibit.
In addition to having gender equality incorporated into the daily running of the museum, Lawrence is currently raising funds to continue programming based on a “phenomenally successful” event for teen and tween girls at which five female mathematicians and physicists spoke. A parent of a son and two daughters, Lawrence says she is committed both professionally and personally to gender inclusivity at MoMath.
Amelia Dornbush on the Lilith Blog.