Kickass Women

History is filled with women doing all kinds of kickass stuff.

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Watch these girls... they're going places!


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Some of my entertainment recommendations with awesome female characters and stars.

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Some of the awesome items made by kickass women!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Kickstart This! African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book

Like many of you, I saw the film Hidden Figures and cheered and cried with the amazing women whose stories had been shamefully neglected for far too long. As someone with more than a passing interest in women's history, I was also more than a little frustrated and disappointed that the stories of these women and others weren't routinely taught in school when I was a kid. Heck, they haven't been taught in most schools in the nearly-30 years since I graduated.

I sometimes wonder if learning about the endeavors of women in math and science would have changed the career trajectories of some of my classmates. Would more of us have actually considered a career in STEM? Would we have stuck with science and math even when it got "hard?" It's difficult to tell. If nothing else, learning about the contributions of these women and others who came before them would have given us a richer understanding of the complex history of the eras in which they lived.

Over the last couple of years, there has been a concerted effort to tell the stories of important women in history whose work has overlooked, if not completely dismissed, for decades or even centuries. Most of the women newly-celebrated worked in the fields of medicine or science, with only a few representing mathematics, and even fewer still were African American women.

Until now, that is. Dr. Shelly Jones is committed to sharing the stories of these math pioneers in her work with students and teachers around the country. As someone who works with a diverse population, she knows the importance of creating a more accurate and representative picture of influential mathematicians, which was more than just a bunch of white men with a smattering of white women.

So, as you can imagine I was thrilled to learn about her African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book. It looks like a fun activity book for middle-grade students, including puzzles that will encourage students to learn more about these women's lives and work. This is an especially important age when it comes to determining whether a student with pursue a career in STEM, and it's when the interest in math peaks for many girls. Perhaps by showing them examples of smart women who did great work, more will be inspired to follow in their footsteps.

The project is already 66% (that's 2/3rds in fractions) funded, with only a week left, but it still needs your help to get off the ground. Dr. Jones was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about her work in teaching mathematics as well as explaining the importance of the African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book.

SRPS: First, can you tell us a little about yourself? What's your background? What inspires you?

SJ: Currently, I am an Associate Professor of Mathematics Education at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU) in New Britain, Connecticut. I teach undergraduate mathematics content and methods courses for pre-service teachers as well as graduate level mathematics content, curriculum and STEM courses for practicing teachers. I am interested in and conduct research on culturally relevant mathematics, making mathematics and music connections, and the effects of college students’ attitudes and beliefs about mathematics on their success in college.

Before CCSU, I was a Mathematics Teacher and then Supervisor in three Connecticut K-12 school districts and then the Assistant Director for Mathematics at The Project to Increase Mastery of Mathematics and Science (PIMMS) at Wesleyan University. I have been an educator for over 25 years.

I serve the mathematics education community by presenting at conferences at the local and national levels. I also provide mathematics professional development in K-12 school districts around the country. I am member and volunteer of the Benjamin Banneker Association, a national organization who advocates for the excellence in teaching and learning for African American children. I am a contributing author of a book entitled, The Brilliance of Black Children in Mathematics: Beyond the Numbers and Toward a New Discourse. Recently I completed a study on Using Culturally Relevant Cognitively Demanding Mathematics Tasks in Classrooms in the United States and Abroad. I worked with teachers from the United States, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bermuda.

I have two daughters ages 17 and 23.

SRPS: What motivated you to dedicate your life to math pedagogy -- instructing teachers how to teach math?

SJ: I began my career as a computer programmer but didn't like the isolation of creating and troubleshooting programs. I began to train people on the job and found that I really enjoyed teaching. I always hear people say, "I'm not good at math." I want to change that narrative. I think people are better at math than they think. They are just not good at "school" math. We must change what we consider is math. It is so much more than just symbol manipulation and following mathematical procedures. It is a way of thinking that includes patterns and logic.

SRPS: One of the questions I hear pretty often from school-aged kids is "When will I ever use this in real life?" Is this because students don't see the relevance of math in their lives?

SJ: Yes, students and even some adults don’t see the relevance of mathematics because they don't see the connection to real life. It is up to teachers to help students see the connection between "school" math and real-life math. Much of what we do in real life is mathematical. For example, we estimate time, recipes, and budgets. We do scheduling, plan trips, calculate percentages, use spatial reasoning to decorate rooms and create art. We even use math (fractions) to read music and tune musical instruments. This is just to name a few. The key is to point this out to students when appropriate and to use real-life scenarios as much as possible in our mathematics curriculum.

SRPS: What is the African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book?

SJ: This activity book is being created to honor the important work, accomplishments and everyday lives of African American Women Mathematicians. Although the book is geared to children in grades 3 – 8 it is appropriate for all ages. All of the featured mathematicians will have a profile sketch and a short biography followed by an activity page displaying their math interest or a hobby they enjoy. For example, Evelyn Boyd Granville participated on a team that created computer software for NASA's Project Vanguard and Project Mercury space programs. Her activity page will include a coloring page of a sketch of the Mercury space craft. Whether at home or school, children will enjoy uncovering mathematician's names through word searches, unscrambling math vocabulary words, solving equations to decode a mathematics fact, answering math history trivia to complete a crossword puzzle, and using their math brain to figure out a magic square. The book will also include some coloring pages and an eye spy page where students will locate hidden mathematical objects.

SRPS: There is a distinct lack of African American women in math and science fields, and several prominent physicists -- like Jedidah Isler & Chanda Prescod-Weinstein -- are calling attention to that. Many people talk about the "broken tech pipeline." How do we encourage more girls to even consider a career in math?

SJ: Whenever possible we must provide opportunities for girls and young women to participate in STEM activities. We must encourage them to "try it!" Having role models is another important aspect of getting more girls into STEM fields. My university sponsors a Girls in STEM Day for high school aged girls. In addition, I coordinate an annual CAMPY-on-Campus event at my university. CAMPY is the Connecticut Association of Mathematically Precocious Youth. Every year we host over 100 middle school students of which many are girls. The students spend a full day participating in STEM activities. They also receive a cool mathematics related t-shirt. These types of events are needed to spark students interest in STEM fields.

SRPS: How did you decide which female mathematicians from history to include?

SJ: The activity book will start with the "firsts" African American women to receive doctorate degrees in mathematics. They are Euphemia Lofton Haynes, Evelyn Boyd Granville, Marjorie Lee Brown, Argelia Velez-Rodriguez, Gloria Conyers Hewitt, and Sadie Gasaway. I will also feature more current mathematicians such as Etta Zuber Falconer and Genevieve Knight. Dr. Falconer was a pioneer of the computer science program at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Knight was one of the founding members of the Benjamin Banneker Association, Incorporated, an affiliate organization of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). So far, I have 20 women; however, as I work on this project, I am finding more and more women to include. I will make a final decision at the end of my Kickstarter campaign. I was asked to include some young women mathematicians and so I am looking for those women now.

Check it out: African American Women Mathematicians Activity Book

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Role Model: Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

"I did not know about any black women working in physics when I was a high school student. A thing that’s very exciting for me is that I can be that person for someone else. And that enriches my work."
Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, theoretical astrophysicist, is still often referred to as "the 63rd black woman in American history with a Physics Ph.D." even though there have been a few more joining her since she graduated in 2010. But only just a few. And she's working on fixing that.

In addition to doing science -- research on dark matter! -- she is also an outspoken advocate for social justice and diversity, and writes extensively about things like the feminist philosophies of science and maintains a reading list for decolonising science.

She was asked to write the forward to the young adult book about black women working at NASA, Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA.

Read a short interview with her talking about her work and her experiences as a black woman in Physics.

You can find her on Twitter and Medium.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Nike Women: Celebrating Arab Athletes

Another great ad about kickass women! This time from Nike, showing off several badass Arab female athletes.

What I love about many of the Nike Women ads is how they show the amazing strength of these athletes-- both physical and emotional -- as they push themselves to perform better. It's not a story we see very often when we look at the sports news. It's a sad fact that no matter where you live, women's sports are not valued anywhere near men's. And so it shouldn't be a surprise when girls' participation is low, despite the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of sports on improving self-esteem, school performance, and socialization in girls, as well as the improvements in physical and mental health.

Sure, we see more stories about women in sports during the Olympics, but every two years is a long time to wait for more inspiration. So, I kinda look forward to these advertisements, even though I am a little iffy on corporations co-opting the themes of women's empowerment.

More importantly, this ad addresses the cultural biases that may keep many Arab girls from engaging in sports by showing young women running or skateboarding in defiance of the disapproving looks from people they encounter on the street. Sometimes the hardest part of exercising is simply getting out the door. This ad asks, "What will they say about you?" And then answers with "they'll say you're strong. That you can't be stopped. That you always find a way." These are the messages I want every young woman athlete to hear and internalize.

Plus, the Nike ads use actual athletes! In this video you'll see:

Amal Murad, first female Emirati parkour coach
Arifa Bseiso, first Jordanian female boxer
Ines Boubakri, first female Tunisian fencing Olympic bronze medal winner
Zahra Lari, first female Emirati figure skater

To add more amazing women to mix, the narrator is Fatima Al-Banawi, a Saudi actor, and there's a cameo by Balqees Fathi, a Saudi singer.

The entire video is beautiful. I've watched it about a dozen times today, and each time I get chills when I see these brilliant, brave, and strong women. More like this, please!

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Millie Dresselhaus - Science Rock Star!

I love love love this new ad from GE!

"What if we treated great female scientists like they were stars?" Yeah! What if? How cool would that be?

It features Physics and Electrical Engineering rock star Millie Dresselhaus. I love that they have kids dressing up like her for Halloween, a physics student using a Millie Dresselhaus emoji, babies being named for her, and generally everyone celebrating the life and work of this amazing woman.

What I think I love them most about it, though, is that they picked a living woman to celebrate instead of the seemingly ubiquitous Marie Curie or Ada Lovelace. Both of them are great women whose work should be celebrated, of course. But I'm also interested in learning about women doing amazing things in the world today.

Mildred Dresselhaus really is a science rock star! Also known as the "queen of carbon," she was a wiz at math and science in high school -- so much so they wrote a poem about her in the yearbook. In college, she studied physics under future Nobel winner Rosalyn Yalow, which sparked her own interest in pursuing a career in science. "That's where I really got started. And Rosalyn insisted that I go to graduate school. She was a person who used to tell you what you were doing."

She earned her master's in physics at Radcliffe, and then headed off to the University of Chicago to study under Enrico Fermi. In 1958 she wrote her Ph.D. thesis on superconductivity. Her first job was with the Lincoln Laboratory, where she studied semi-conductors and it was her research that led to a clearer understanding of graphite and its electric structure. And she's been at the cutting edge ever since. "As for now, I'm still at the forefront of carbon science. I've been very active in the nanotube area. In 2004 and 2005, I entered the graphene domain. Ironically that's where I started back in 1962; we just didn't have samples of monolayer graphene then. These days I'm working mostly on the photophysics of graphene."

But that's not all! She also served as the assistance secretary of the Department of Energy under President Bush [43]. "I have another side of me and that's the energy side - this started when I was assistant secretary of the DOE. They asked me to do a hydrogen study, because President Bush had the idea that hydrogen was going to be an important energy source, and that led to a whole bunch of other studies. I got back into the science policy area because of that."

And, in between working in the lab and talking policy, she's also active in promoting the role of women in science. In fact, her own granddaughter is taking up the carbon nanotube research. "I'm having a great time watching her. If I had to do the whole thing over again, I'd do it exactly the same way."

FYI: I would love a Millie Dresselhaus doll!

She was featured in an IEEE Spectrum story a couple of years ago

Read more about her work

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Yale: Welcome to Grace Murray Hopper College

Yale's Calhoun College will be renamed in honor of Grace Murray Hopper!

This is fantastic news for a couple of important reasons. First, the college will no longer be named after John C. Calhoun, an outspoken pro-slavery politician and 7th VP of the US. According to Yale President Peter Salovey, "The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly, but John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a 'positive good' fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values." I am an advocate of being honest in any assessment of celebrated historical figures, and I try to hold our historical heroes accountable for their racism, classism, and colonialism while still celebrating their accomplishments. But some folks are just too wrong to make up for anything good they managed to accomplish. John Calhoun is one of those people.

But on to the good news! Yale has decided to rename the college after one of my favorite amazing women from history: Grace Hopper! President Salovey said the response to a request for suggested names to replace Calhoun was overwhelmingly in her favor, saying "Hopper's name was mentioned by more individuals than any other, reflecting the strong feeling within our community that her achievements and life of service reflect Yale's mission and core values."

I'll say! Grace Hopper earned her master's and Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale. As an alumna, she was awarded the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal in 1972. President Salovey praised her work, saying "An extraordinary mathematician and a senior naval officer, Hopper achieved eminence in fields historically dominated by men. Today, her principal legacy is all around us — embodied in the life-enhancing technology she knew would become commonplace. Grace Murray Hopper College thus honors her spirit of innovation and public service while looking fearlessly to the future."

She truly is a remarkable woman and an excellent role model for future generations of Yalies. And everyone else.

The full Yale announcement
Amazing Grace Hopper: life advice from a remarkable woman"

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Jedidah Isler - astrophysicist

Today is International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and what better way to celebrate than by honoring a kickass woman who divides her time between studying black holes and helping diversify science!

Jedidah Isler knew she wanted to be an astrophysicist when she was 12 years old. She was looking at a list of careers, trying to decide what she wanted to do when she grew up, and saw "astrophysicist" and it was a done deal. She'd always had a love of watching the stars, and when she realized she could do that as a job, she did everything in her power to make it happen.

Absolutely determined to make her dream come true, she took all the right math and science classes though high school, earned her bachelor's in Physics, graduating Magna Cum Laude, from Norfolk State University, earned a master's in physics at Fisk University, and, finally, in 2014 she earned a Ph.D. in physics from Yale, becoming the first African American woman to do so.

Now, to the delight of her inner 12-year-old, she studies blazars or "blazing quasars" - supermassive hyperactive black holes spewing an enormous energy jet directed straight at the Earth.

In 2015, she was selected as a TED Fellow. And she even applied to the astronaut program at NASA, who should be announcing their newest class of astronaut trainees very soon.

Aside from her work studying space, she's also devoted to pressing matters her on Earth, showing "how STEM can be a tool for global leadership and social change. I want to build partnerships that, in turn, trigger a tsunami of STEM practitioners from underrepresented backgrounds." As part of her mission, she is a tireless advocate of inclusion and empowerment across racial and gender lines in STEM.

"Women of color face unique barriers because of their position at the intersection of race and gender, not to mention class and socioeconomic status. Sometimes racial and gender discrimination is overt; other times, it’s not. Either way, it's harmful. Addressing these issues is just as important as the astrophysical work I do."

And she knows what she's talking about. Throughout her academic career she faced plenty of discrimination. While in her first year at Yale, she went out to dinner with some of her classmates. At the end of the dinner, one guy gathered up all the plates and handed them to her saying, "Here, now go and do what you're really here to do." She says that it's incidents like these (some might call them microaggressions) that make it difficult for women and minorities to react. They have to strike a delicate balance between getting angry and ignoring it. "If I get really mad, then I'm the angry black woman. But if I give too much concession, then I'm sort of too conciliatory, and it was just weird. It let me know that this is not a safe space for me."

She eventually figured out her own way past these kinds of situations, and now works to make sure others don't have to go it alone. "Whether I like it or not, I'm one of only a few women of color in this position. Addressing these larger issues of access to education and career exploration are just as important as the astrophysical work that I do.

Watch her TED talk, and read her TED blog post about why the above photo of black women scientists is so important to her.

Read a great interview with her talking about science AND her natural hair!

Read a recent story about her from Vanderbilt, where she's a post-doc candidate.

Listen to an NPR Code Switch story about her work to improve diversity in science while at Yale.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa
by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illustrated by J. Brian Pinkney

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa (Amazon / Library) is an elegant, almost dreamlike book telling the story of Ella Fitzgerald's musical life and career.

Artistic partners and spouses Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney join forces again in this exquisite tribute to the life of a musical icon. Andrea's prose pulls us in to share in her joys and heartbreaks while we are carried along by Brian's beautiful artwork. Bother words and art magically melding together in a mesmerizing masterpiece.

Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuosa (Amazon / Library) earns the Self-Rescuing Princess Society seal of approval for telling the story of a downtrodden girl with a dream she refuses to give up, showing us the power of determination and hard work. This books is ideal for middle grade readers, but the artwork makes it an enchanting storytime or bedtime read for younger children as well. Heck, it's so beautiful, it would make a good coffee table book for adult fans of this legendary singer.

[Note: I have included Amazon Affiliate links in this post. I am exploring options for increasing my income from this blog to help me to continue to bring you the important stories of kickass women and girls. While I will always work to tell these stories, I have bills to pay. By all means feel free to look for these books elsewhere if you prefer. If you want to help support the work I do here, please consider using these links to shop.]

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Little Melba and her big trombone

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone
by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone (Amazon / Library) is a fun picture book about the trailblazing jazz musician and arranger Melba Liston, starting with her childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, during the Great Depression, following her through her adult years as a trombone player in various bands, and then to her work as a music arranger and teacher.

When I read the story of Melba requesting a trombone at the age of 7, my first thought was What is a little girl going to do with such a big instrument? She's going to a whole lot, that's what! She was surrounded by music growing up, and with the support of her parents she was able to explore her natural talent.

Katheryn Russell-Brown's writing brilliantly captures the swinging rhythm of the big band era. Frank Morrison's colorful artwork grabs your attention with its warmth and movement. Looking at each page I can almost feel the warm sun of a summer day on the streets of Kansas City; feel the excitement of this young virtuoso as she stretches herself toward her goal; and head the music of life in this vibrant community.

Little Melba and Her Big Trombone (Amazon / Library) earned the Self-Rescuing Princess Society seal of approval for showing us how even a little girl can make her big dream come true with a lot of work and a little luck. This book is an excellent choice for early readers interested in music, as well as an enjoyable storytime or bedtime book for younger kids.

[Note: I have included Amazon Affiliate links in this post. I am exploring options for increasing my income from this blog to help me to continue to bring you the important stories of kickass women and girls. While I will always work to tell these stories, I have bills to pay. By all means feel free to look for these books elsewhere if you prefer. If you want to help support the work I do here, please consider using these links to shop.]

I can't do the work of SRPS without your your support!
If you like what you read, please share this post with your friends.