Math and science fun?

These CSB women say it is!

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May 3, 2013

By Diane Hageman with assistance from Jill Yanish '13 and Elisabeth Leipholtz ‘15

Seated from left: Jessica Solfest, Laura Neirengarten, Marie Meyer.  Standing from left: Allison Reinsvold, Becca Simon, Michelle Hromatka, Katelin Weiers, Whitney Radil.

The May 11 College of Saint Benedict commencement will be historic in more ways than one.  First, it's the kick-off to CSB's centennial celebration "A Century of Connection." And second, eight women will be the first cohort of MapCores (Mathematics, Physics, Computer Science Research Scholars) students to graduate from CSB.

With the strong encouragement of CSB President MaryAnn Baenninger and the backing of a $600,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, MapCores was launched with the first-year class in the fall of 2009.  CSB students were chosen for their interest in majoring in math, physics or computer science.

Students who are accepted into this program receive a scholarship of $20,000 a year which is renewable up to four years.  In addition to the eight MapCores students graduating this year, there are a total of 38 in the first-year, sophomore and junior classes.

"These select group of women gain cross-disciplinary academic and research experiences which will help prepare them for careers in these fields," said Kris Nairn, associate professor of mathematics at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University who took the lead on writing the NSF grant.

MapCores is structured to help students gain confidence to persist in a rigorous curriculum, recognize and overcome some of the cultural stereotypes that may hinder academic progress and develop self-esteem as junior members of the scientific community.

"On these campuses, we're all made very aware of gender and gender differences," said Becca Simon, a computer science major from Witchita, Kan. "The support of women in the areas of math and science definitely drew me in because it was something the other schools didn't have."

Supportive environment

Faculty from computer science, mathematics and physics serve as mentors and each cohort participates as a group in science-focused, honors first year seminar (FYS) together. This close interaction creates a dynamic learning environment where students bring the strengths of their individual academic discipline while learning from the perspective of other disciplines.

"The core of the program is the interaction among the cohort," said Lynn Ziegler, professor of computer science at CSB and SJU.

"We do all these interconnected assignments sophomore and junior year. I did an assignment with a math (and accounting) major, and we did something on how the brain perceives color," said Michelle Hromatka, a computer science major from Chanhassen, Minn.  "They're unrelated things, but it's about taking the different backgrounds and combining them into one project."

Results

The results demonstrate the success of the program. CSB computer science majors have quadrupled, physics majors have doubled and math majors are up 14 percent, now making up 42 percent of math majors at CSB and SJU.  In this cohort, there are four computer science graduates, three mathematics graduates and one physics graduate. Five are entering graduate school and three have secured jobs. 

Where are they going?
  • Michelle Hromatka:  computer science major, specializing in medical image analysis in a doctoral program in computer science at University of Utah.
  • Marie Meyer: mathematics major, pursuing doctorate in mathematics at the University of Kentucky
  • Laura Nierengarten:  computer science major, working as a software engineer at Thomson Reuters
  • Whitney Radil: mathematics major, awarded a fellowship in a doctoral program in mathematics at University of Notre Dame.
  • Allison Reinsvold:  physics major, entering doctoral program in physics at the University of Notre Dame.
  • Becca Simon: computer science major, working as a software developer at Epic in Madison, Wis.
  • Jessica Solfest:  mathematics major, entering graduate school at Purdue University in kinesiology.
  • Katelin Weiers:  mathematics and accounting double-major, hired as actuarial assistant at Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.