On International Women in Mathematics Day, a St Clare’s teacher and student share what they love about maths and its power for progress.

Nicola Steele traded a career as an aerospace engineer and analyst in finance for a Mathematics teaching role at St Clare’s College Waverley.

Now she is helping innovation at the college reach new heights as the college’s Director of Integrated Learning. 

“In all of the jobs I had held I was often the only woman in the room,” she said.

“This was a big part of my decision to encourage, inspire and mentor young women at school to pursue higher levels of mathematics – and to take on and achieve more roles within these industries.”

The integrated learning role has involved working closely with the school’s leadership and heads of department to provide authentic learning experiences for students. It includes developing resources, scheduling project afternoons, gathering project feedback, and data analysis.

One of these projects, Post-Earth Pioneers, sees Year 7 Maths and Science students plan a mission to continue human life beyond Earth.

I love that maths is a subject where you get to solve problems and think logically, which are skills that you can apply to any other subject you study.

“The projects are a really fun chance to do workshops with the girls on space-related things that might not fit into my regular Maths classroom.

“With how much the Australian space industry is growing, it’s very feasible that many of these students could go on to work in it” – Nicola Steele

With so many future jobs expected to involve some level of mathematics –  such as in technology companies, future transportation and space travel –   Ms Steele said there was great value in the subject.

“The more young women that engage with higher levels of mathematics, the more they will be in a better position to be part of the industries that will shape our world,” she said.

Mathematics fast-track

It’s a possibility that has resonated with current students of the college, including Anna Vincent-Hull.

The Year 9 accelerated mathematics student was identified as a high achiever in the subject in Year 7, and completed Years 7 to 10 coursework in that same year.

St Clare’s individualised program in mathematics saw her begin Year 11 mathematics in Year 8, and she will sit HSC in Mathematics Advanced at the end of this year. 

“I have also chosen the STEM elective that the College offers this year,” Anna said.

“I am really enjoying being able to apply the mathematics and problem solving skills in this course, which focuses on real life problems.”

* International Women in Mathematics Day is on 12 May. It began four years ago in honour of Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani who is the first and only woman to win the Fields Medal, the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel Prize.