Did you know that you can find the Fibonacci sequence in pineapples? This is just one of many fun applications of mathematics in everyday life that Trent alumna, Dr. Jane Heffernan ’96 shared with grade 7 and 8 learners at the annual FemSTEAM Summit, hosted in honour of International Day of the Girl. The Summit, a collaboration between FemSTEAM Peterborough, Trent University and Fleming College, aims to expose young women to the many opportunities in the fields of science, technology & trades, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) by introducing them to mentors, like Dr. Heffernan. This year’s event saw around 80 attend in person, with almost 500 joining the event virtually.
“It is so important for these Grade 7 and 8 learners to see themselves reflected in any learning space and to have those positive role models,” says Trent Dean of Education, Dr. Claire Mooney. “If they don’t see themselves represented, they’re going to close those doors to opportunity. Today we are driving home the message that it is okay to not know what you want to do in the future, so keep those doors to a diverse learning experience open.”
Education is not a linear journey
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Heffernan, co-director of the Centre for Disease Modelling at York University, made a significant contribution to how we as a society responded to the pandemic. Yet her journey to becoming one of Canada’s leading mathematicians wasn’t linear. In fact, it was a fourth-year course in Mathematical Biology that opened her eyes to how she can apply mathematics to real-world questions.
“It was my fourth year of university that really opened my eyes to my career,” she explains. “So, if you don't know what you want to be right now, don't worry about it. You might find your interests later. ”President of the Trent Graduate Students’ Association and Ph.D. student in Trent’s Environmental and Life Sciences graduate program, Emma Kaszecki couldn’t agree more. “At the age of 13, what you want to be when you grow up changes so often. You really get a clearer idea once you are on that education journey and when you meet mentors along the way, and learn from their experiences, she explains. “So, I really want to drive home the message that even if you don't know what you want to be when you grow up, it'll become easier as you get older. Make the most of the opportunities and mentors that cross your path.”
In addition to meeting inspiring mentors like Dr. Heffernan and Emma, learners also explored some of Trent’s state-of-the-art laboratories to see faculty and student research in action and learn more about the many opportunities that await them at the University. “The joy of Trent is the fact that you can experience so many different things – you can be a scientist, but you can also take an Anthropology, Sociology or Cultural Studies course and have a diverse learning experience,” adds Professor Mooney. “Trent really offers incoming students so many options to keep the doors open.”