Here we are at post 100. Thanks to all of the people who have sent encouraging tweets, emails and Facebook messages! Thanks especially to Jacque Wernimont, who has been a patient sounding board all along the way.
I started Grandma Got STEM to bring people together and change perceptions about grandmothers. However, as the stories started rolling in, I found myself a bit weepy. I miss my grandmothers dearly. And I figured that I would never be able to add them to this project because neither had a STEM-related career or ever talked to me about anything vaguely STEM-like.
Not knowing this history or my state of mind, our first grandma, Zanna, emailed me and asked, “You’re planning to include your own grandmothers?”
Zanna had a point. I wanted to honor my own family, so I wrote this post, and saved it for #100.
My Mom, grandmother Dodi Levy, worked as dance therapist in hospitals to counsel people using movement as a medium of communication. This work blends social science and the arts. Pretty cool, eh?
My Dad, Jack Levy, had a great influence on my development as a Mathematician. He is a retired chemist who challenged me as a kid to learn math and science and think about how things work. One of my early STEM-related memories is riding in the car with my Dad and asking him, “How fast is the car going when they measure the windshield factor?” Puzzled, he asked me what the windshield factor is. I replied, “You know, on the radio they always say it is colder because of the windshield factor.”
Let me explain. I grew up in the South, raised by parents from Savannah, Georgia who didn’t have much of a Southern accent. Thus, when the radio person said “wind chill factor” with a NC accent it sounded like wee-yund cheeee-yul factor. I encourage you to say it out loud, just for fun. My ears interpreted those sounds as “windshield factor.” That was OK, because I figured that if you were sitting on the windshield of a car while it was going fast, it would certainly feel colder! As I pondered this interesting way to interpret cold, I decided there must be some particular speed at which a person would drive to measure the windshield factor, to make the temperature readings consistent. Dad got a good laugh out of that one, but then encouraged me by saying he was proud that I was thinking creatively to make some sense out of a temperature scale.
After my email exchange with Zanna, I decided to call my parents to see if there was anything more to learn about my grandmothers. I realized that I didn’t even know what my grandmothers studied in college! To my surprise, there were parts of my grandmothers’ stories that my parents (who have known each other their whole lives) had not even shared with each other.
It turns out that my paternal grandmother, Minnie Levy, studied mathematics and French in college (and graduated with an AB from University of Georgia in 1930). The picture below is of her holding me as a baby.
My maternal grandmother, Miriam Levy, loved mathematics, even though her unfulfilled passion in life was to be a professional dancer. Below you can see her with my parents at my wedding. How interesting that even though they knew I loved mathematics, neither grandmother ever discussed math with me! Both of them did enjoy playing strategy-based card or board games with their grandchildren.
So that’s the story of my grandmothers and STEM.
My great aunt Pearl (Levy, of course), born in 1898, also comes to mind. She wanted to be a doctor her whole life, but had to take care of her siblings and did not have the opportunity to become educated and practice medicine. So while Grandma got STEM celebrates women who found their way to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, I don’t want to forget the many women who desired yet never had those experiences.
I hope that Grandma got STEM will continue to inspire people to share their stories. My dream is to hear from people all over the world.
Thank you to everyone who has participated in this project to get it off the ground. Stay tuned for more!