2015-04-22

April—spring is here, flowers are starting to bloom and baseball season has begun! However, none of those are what makes April so special. April is a month dedicated to celebrating math! Since 1986, we use this time to celebrate and increase public understanding of and appreciation for mathematics. This year, the theme selected by the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (JPBM) is “Math Drives Careers.” This is a wonderful opportunity for City Year AmeriCorps Members to explore practical applications of mathematics with their students as well as examine their own career options as they prepare for their City Year graduation.  

In today’s economy, strong skills in math can help unlock many professional opportunities for young adults. In fact, many careers use advanced math skills even if they do not seem math-focused on the surface. Despite working in the sports and medical industries, two City Year alumni discovered just how much math influences their day-to-day careers.

1506687_10100333525679385_3874440133632083588_n.jpgLawrence Murray (City Year Philadelphia, ’10 and City Year Los Angeles,’11; Alumni Board Member) works in sports media as an NBA media contributor and a researcher for the NFL Network. In his job, Law works with data every day and in many different ways. He reads and edits scripts and graphics and analyzes the decisions of coaches and general managers. “In my role, I am fact-checking information and adding context to the basic statistics that are available.”

Even though math plays a key role in his career, Law had mixed experiences in math as a student. He recalls, “Math was too easy before 7th grade.” However, as he entered into high school he discovered the challenges that math can pose. “I had to drop out of the advanced placement class into a calculus track that was more appropriate for me.” While this experience shook Law’s mathematical confidence, he now embraces math and sees the value that his understanding of numbers has added to his professional track. As he reflects on some of his current workplace projects, Law recalls, “The applications of math in my work are not only realistic, but they are directly in my interests. The work doesn’t end when you have your numbers together, like it sometimes does in the classroom. You still have to make the case that the information you have is interesting and significant enough to be used.” Law often provides this context in high-pressure situations, such as when he prepped All-Pro Wide Receiver Antonio Brown to be a guest analyst on NFL Total Access. “Sports organizations are trying to take advantage of data and information to enhance performance and consistency,” Law notes. This keeps math at the forefront of his job and helps him have fun with numbers every day.

Jacqueline Ou (City Year Boston, ’03) uses math in a different way. She works at Genentech, a biotechnology company, in the Market Analytics & Strategy Department. In reflecting on how she uses math at work, Jackie says, “I use mathematics to calculate probabilities and statistics, put together quantitative market research studies that look at how doctors view and think about the diseases they treat, and forecast revenues for drugs in the company’s portfolio.”

Whether she’s running analytics at work, or tackling problem sets as a student, Jackie has always loved math. “I knew that I wanted my future to include mathematics. Math is always fun for me,” she reflects. As a student, Jackie even sought out extra opportunities to engage with math outside of the classroom. She enjoyed the challenge of math competitions, including the USA Mathematics Olympiad, where she placed as one of the top 10 female competitors in the country! However, you do not have to be a competitive math student to enjoy working in mathematics. “I think of each problem as a big puzzle, and whether it was as a student in math class or what I do today, it is still like working toward an elegant solution.” And what solution could be more important than helping doctors understand how to treat disease?

As is evident from these two, diverse experiences, math opens doors to unique career paths. Whether, you’re like Jackie and you love the puzzle of a good math problem, or you’re like Law, and had mixed experiences as a student of mathematics, there is still a space for everyone to explore how math can empower future career options. To learn more, be sure to check out the Math Awareness Month homepage and YouthSpark—a Microsoft program that provides career skill training to youth.

If you are interested in learning more about our alumni’s stories, feel free to contact them directly:

Jackie Ou: jackieou@gmail.com

Law Murray: 1987.lawrencemurray@gmail.com

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