Today, we are interviewing fellow Hello Bezlo cofounder Ivana Lee, a mathematic extraordinare with a passion for fashion! She is a big role model for young girls as she stylishly paves the way forward encouraging everyone, young and old, to think differently towards Math. Her story is quite remarkable: having once failed math in high school she became determined never to let that happen again! In true Bezlo Girl spirit, she rose to the challenge, gained confidence and now LOVES Math! Her passion for math grew so much she’s made an amazing career out of it! Here we find out her inspiring story.
Tell us Ivana, what do you do?
I work at an education non-profit organization as a Senior Assessment Specialist in Mathematics. I develop mathematics content for a college entrance exam that high school students take when applying to college.
Wow, impressive! How did you develop your passion for math?
I didn’t always love math. I failed math class my second year of high school, so naturally, my reaction was to hate it. As a teenage girl, there are many things that can contribute to low self-esteem, and failure was a huge one for me. I had always gotten good grades in school, so my first (and only) failure left me embarrassed, discouraged, and unconfident. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I suppose my failure also challenged me to work harder. Somehow, I worked my way up to a college-level calculus class in my final year of high school. With the support of a very encouraging teacher, I managed to get a high score on the final calculus exam, which allowed me to enter college with my math requirements already completed. For the first two years of college, I had no idea what I wanted to study. I took various classes in English, History, Theology, Sociology, Psychology, and Spanish, trying to discover my passion. I eventually realized that what I was missing was math, and ended up graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics. The following year, I earned my Master’s degree in Education because I realized that I wanted to help students the same way my calculus teacher helped me.
How encouraging! The myth of “you either are good or bad at math” is totally false! It really is never too late to learn!
Never! When people find out what I do for work or that I love math so much, their response is often, “Oh wow! I’m not a math person…” To that, I always respond, “EVERYONE is a math person!” I think it is rather common for people who struggled in math to lose confidence in their mathematical abilities, leading them to think they are “bad at math”. Keep going! I was not always great at math either, but through the hard work that I put into trying to understand it, I learned to appreciate how utterly beautiful, perfect, and interesting it can be. Failure can often lead to success, and that success can lead to passion.
It’s clear you love fashion too, can you tell us more about your style? Has math played a part in your style?
I live in New York City, the fashion capital of the world, so I’m constantly seeing fashion inspo from women I encounter in my day-to-day life. I like to wear simple, comfortable, yet stylish outfits. It’s actually hard to find clothing inspired by mathematics (which is why I am so excited to be a part of Hello Bezlo!), but I am always on the hunt for necklaces, rings, or earrings that showcase mathematics. It’s fun to look for the math behind these designs!
What excites you most about your job?
I remember what it was like to be a high school student who struggled at math, so as I develop our materials, I think about what we can do to help those students who may be struggling as well. It’s also fun for us to think about how we can make the content interesting and relevant to students. When I review instructional materials, I try to think of ways to explain the math so that students get a better understanding of mathematical concepts. It’s more important to understand why math works the way it does, rather than how to solve a problem.
How do you think we can encourage more girls not to give up on math?
Exposure to female role models! I specifically use the phrase “exposure to” rather than “lack of” because there are so many brilliant women out there that girls can look up to. We just need to do more to promote these amazing women in our STEM workforce!
In addition to role models, students – especially female students – need encouragement. Although females may have above-average mathematical abilities, they tend to report low levels of mathematical confidence. They often compare themselves to their male classmates because math and science are (for some reason) viewed as “boy” subjects in our culture. Passionate teachers who nurture their students to believe in themselves are key in closing this gender gap.
Finally, if you could go back to give your ten year old self advice what would it be?
I’m totally stealing this line from GoldieBlox, a toy company aimed at promoting girls in STEM:
“There’s nothing wrong with being a princess, but girls can build their own castles, too.”