Julia Robinson and the future of women in STEM fields

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 at 7:33 PM

Edinboro University’s (EU) Math and Computer Science Club held their annual viewing of “Julia Robinson and Hilbert’s Tenth Problem” on Wednesday, March 20, in celebration of Women’s History Month.

The documentary screening aimed to open a campus dialogue on gender discrimination in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, along with how to reach out to students about STEM studies.

Dr. John Hoggard, advisor to the math club, said that the hope of the annual viewing of “Julia Robinson and Hilbert’s Tenth Problem” is to shine a light on women within STEM fields. He explained that traditionally women within these fields had been looked down upon by their male counterparts.

“One of the things I like about the documentary, and why it fits well into Women’s History Month, is that it addressed, a little bit, how being a woman affected her (Julia Robinson’s) life and her research,” he said.

The documentary follows the life of Julia Robinson (1919-1985), an American mathematician whose work on Hilbert’s 10th problem was crucial to finding the resolution of the problem in 1970. However, as Robinson began her career she faced gender discrimination; now she is touted as one of the great mathematicians.

Also attending the documentary was retired EU Professor Anne Jedlicka. Jedlicka taught in the mathematics department at ‘Boro from 1966 to 2001. She explained that she had also faced gender discrimination as a woman in the field of mathematics.

“It (gender discrimination) was something that, if you work at it constantly, day-by-day, one step at a time, you say to yourself — there always has to be a better day. And hopefully, it will — it did disappear.”

Further, Jedlicka said that she noticed that her field had become much more inclusive throughout her career as a mathematician at EU and that she never regretted teaching mathematics. “I was very happy here. I liked the students. I liked the faculty.”

During her time at Edinboro, the computer science department was developed and Jedlicka helped research and develop the actuary program. She also helped create pamphlets on the actuary program that were distributed to young women at local high schools, drawing young women into the mathematics field.

Though EU’s Math and Computer Science Club were responsible for the event, out of the 28 people in attendance, not one student was in the club. Furthermore, there was no math majors or computer science majors in attendance. Hoggard explained: “I was a little surprised that we didn’t have a single math major here, even though we had a large number of students. I think part of the problem was that a lot of our math majors have already seen the film.” He continued, “The other nice thing about the documentary is that it gives non-mathematicians a taste of what it is like to do mathematical research at the highest level.”

Kayla Underwood, a senior nursing major at EU, reflected this demographic, coming to see the documentary as it was a Women’s History Month event, but leaving the screening more informed on what goes into mathematic research. She said that viewing the documentary was encouraging.

“It was cool to see how she (Robinson) was the first woman to win all those mathematic awards...I want to get my master’s and eventually my Ph.D., so it was inspiring to see her solve unsolvable math problems.”

Jamie Heinrich | edinboro.specttor@gmail.com

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