Record number of students join 2021 Girls Do the Maths program

Date: 

Thursday, 17th June 2021


We were thrilled to host 530 high school students from 27 schools at two separate events for our 2021 Girls Do the Maths workshop - making it the largest in the program's 16-year history.

The annual workshop series is aimed at years 10-12 female high school students, encouraging them to consider studying mathematics and statistics at university and advising them of the diverse and enriching career paths available to graduates. This year, we held a COVID-safe event on campus at UNSW, and a tailored online event one week later. 

Our on-campus event ushered 230 high school students from 21 schools through the doors of the Roundhouse on Thursday 10 June. Event MC Catherine Greenhill introduced the girls to Head of School Professor Adelle Coster, who provided a warm welcome and gave attendees an overview of UNSW Mathematics and Statistics. Dean of Science Professor Emma Johnston presented an inspiring talk about the myriad opportunities available to maths and stats graduates and spoke about her career as a scientist. 

Our 2021 UNSW Women in Mathematics and Statistics Ambassador Dr Virginia Wheway gave a fascinating talk about her incredible and diverse career as a data scientist. Dr Wheway is Vice President of Data and Analytics at Koala, and has a wealth of experience across numerous industries.

We were excited to introduce a new format for the event, with the addition of three interactive maths workshop sessions. These hands-on activities were eagerly tackled by the tables of girls, with the assistance of a staff member or one of our current students who were seated with them throughout the day. 

First up was an activity designed and presented by Dr Daniel Mansfield. "Babylonian Surveyor Techniques" introduced the students to the maths used by ancient Babylonian surveyors by having them calculate the area of a plot of land using only a rope and a stick to construct right triangles, rectangles, and trapezoids.

During morning tea, the girls viewed the Australian Women of Mathematics Exhibit, which showcases 16 profiles of mathematicians and features one of Dr Anita Liebenau. 

Dr Liebenau and Dr Amandine Schaeffer each delivered talks about their careers and current fields of research, followed by the second activity, led by Sean Gardiner. In "Counting Conundrums" (designed by Dr Gardiner, Jason Atnip and Yudhi Bunjamin), students were tasked with enumerating the ways different objects can be arranged, ranging from stacking cups to balancing brackets, and looking for connections along the way.

After an overview of our programs and scholarships by Dr John Steele, the students broke for lunch and a campus tour. 

The third activity, "Peter's Party Planning Problems", was presented by Diana Combe. Designed by Dr Combe and Yudhi Bunjamin, it introduced the students to the concept of Balanced Incomplete Block Designs by having them schedule parties following very particular rules.

The final session of the day was a lively Q&A facilitated by Professor Frances Kuo. Our students Alina Young, Jodie Lee, Maeve McGillycuddy, Abirami Srikumar and Eliza Chew fielded a range of questions from attendees. 

Head of the event organising committee, Dr Alessandro Ottazzi, believed that the day was a huge success.

"The energy and the level of engagement of the girls in the room was extraordinary. I felt we were able to communicate that Mathematics can offer very diverse and exciting career paths", he said. 

The online event on Thursday 17 June was MCed by Associate Professor Jan Zika and Data Science and Decisions Ambassador Kathryn Dalton, and included an audience of approximately 300 students from six schools who attended via Zoom.

The two-hour session included presentations by Professor Adelle Coster, Dr Anita Liebenau, and Dr Virginia Wheway. 

An interactive activity was presented by Laure Helme-Guizon. "What Normal Means!", designed by Dr Helme-Guizon, Dr Atnip, Dr Gardiner and Yudhi Bunjamin had the students investigating the Central Limit Theorem by inputting random data into an intricate online system to see sampling distributions converging in real-time.

The online event culminated in a short Q&A session. 

A massive thank you to the event organisers: Alessandro Ottazzi, Jason Atnip, Yudhi Bunjamin, Sean Gardiner, Alexander Gilbert, Nathan Jackson, Frances Kuo, Amandine Schaeffer, Susannah Waters, Ian Whiteway and Jan Zika - and to the many other staff and current students who contributed so wonderfully to the events. 

"The events were the result of incredible teamwork", said Dr Ottazzi. "I was humbled and honoured to work together with so many amazing people of mixed gender and seniority". 

Head of School Adelle Coster had praise for the organisers. "Congratulations to the Girls Do The Maths team on a fantastic workshop. The students participated in a whole range of fantastic activities and had a great time", she said. 

"I would like to express enormous gratitude to everyone involved for the incredibly hard work in pulling this all together as well as facilitating everything so well - and in a constrained COVID-safe manner.

"Thanks also to the team for the fantastic online event - groups from schools all over Sydney joined us online for a great morning of mathematics". 

Pictured, from top: High school attendees with Dr Amandine Schaeffer; Professor Adelle Coster welcomes the students; view from above during the "Peter's Party Planning Problems" activity; panel discussion featuring our current students; one of the campus tour groups with UNSW canine ambassadors Jasper and Luka; A/Prof Jan Zika and Data Science and Decisions Ambassador Kathryn Dalton hosting the online event.