Club Spotlight: SWiM makes sine waves

When Professors Rebecca Swanson and Deb Carney set foot on campus in 2012, they felt something was missing. “They already had this idea of coming together and making the women community stronger,” said Kownoon Her, a SWiM officer. A group for women in math was something Carney and Swanson had previously experienced and enjoyed, but there was no such group at Mines—yet. Society for Women in Mathematics at Mines was born last Spring, but truly launched in the Fall with hearty support from the Department of Applied Math and Statistics. Though Carney, Swanson, and Agata Dean were instrumental in the initiation and vision of the club, SWiM thrives from both AMS faculty and student leadership and participation, creating a vertically integrated community. Before SWiM, SWE was the only organization on the Mines campus that was specifically for women, but growing efforts by Mines to recruit more women resulted in strong support for SWiM by the campus, including WISEM (Women in Science, Engineering, and Math). SWiM is now an official student chapter of AWM, Association for Women in Mathematics.

In its second semester, the current is carrying SWiM along well. Meetings are held bimonthly, with students and math faculty socializing over a meal for the first half of the meeting, and then listening and interacting with the guest speaker. “Every meeting there’s about thirty students who come, and all women, which makes it easy to talk and get to know each other,” said Her. “But men are more than welcome to come if they like,” Abby Branch added, also an officer in SWiM.

Being a math or stats major is not a prerequisite for joining SWiM, just a curiosity about the subjects. “It’s really geared towards the Mathematics department,” she said, “But if there’s any woman on campus that would be interested in math or careers or internships and REUs in math, they are more than welcome to come and join us, especially those that are minors in Math.” SWiM holds their meetings on the last Tuesday of every month at 5PM in Chauvenet 143.

“Every meeting this semester we’ve brought in speakers who are in industry but have graduated with a math or stats degree to talk to us about their career, how they got their job, what they’re learning, and what we can do to prepare ourselves for industry. One of our SWiM members actually got an internship from talking to one of our guest speakers.” SWiM is also starting workshops on issues that specifically happen to women. She said, “One that we’re excited about is the Imposter Syndrome, and we’re also thinking about workshops on negotiation and leadership.”

For SWiM’s February meeting, CSM alumna Claire Le Lait revisited her old stomping grounds to talk about her path to biostatistics. After getting her undergraduate degree in statistics at Mines, Le Lait stayed on for graduate school after getting funded to teach (third and fourth year undergraduates may remember Le Lait teaching some of the lower level math courses such as calculus). She now works as a statistical research specialist for the RADARS System (Researched Abuse, Diversion, and Addiction Related Surveillance), a subset of Denver Health. Being a statistical research specialist is one way to work in the field of biostatistics in industry, as Le Lait works with the statistics of prescription drug abuse. Said Le Lait, “I don’t know if I would call myself in industry. I’m just kind of in a balanced place.”

Le Lait offered some tips especially for those interested in a field other than engineering. “Number one piece of advice: Don’t just stick to Mines. It is a great base,” said Le Lait, who also took full advantage of external programs such as The Summer Institute for Training in Biostatisics (SIBS). From summer programs to studying abroad, there are many things to be learned and experienced outside of CSM. Second, she advised students to look for jobs early, but to also make sure the people are enjoyable to work with. Said Le Lait, “I work with great people. Make sure that when you’re looking for a job, you connect with the people who are interviewing you.” Le Lait also recommended honesty when being interviewed. She additionally warned with a laugh, “If you go into statistics, you will find that you make a sickening amount of tables.”

Graphs and tables are only the tip of the iceberg of what SWiM is all about, and the club is certain to grow in the coming semesters. “In the near future we definitely want to grow our programming,” envisioned Carney. “We have interest in doing outreach, so sponsoring a middle school math day, or just reach out to middle school and high school girls. We’re looking to build a community and look for events that bring people together.”

In the club’s short existence, the faculty and students have indeed managed to build a community. “The best part of SWiM, I think, is that the faculty interacts with us. Nearly every single table has a math faculty member, that way we can interact and get to know our professors,” she said. “And we have great food,” Branch added. Food, community, and math all come together in Chauvenet.

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