Having fun with math

Part of a series of stories profiling graduating students

- May 24, 2011

Angela Siegel in her office in the Chase Building. (Danny Abriel Photo)
Angela Siegel in her office in the Chase Building. (Danny Abriel Photo)

When Angela Siegel was young, she and her dad came upon his Grade 4 math textbook at her grandmother’s house in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Together with her parents, they’d puzzle over math problems, their heads bent over the well-used textbook searching for answers.

“I still remember the three of us working through these problems—and I was pretty little,” recalls Ms. Siegel, who is graduating with a PhD in mathematics. “The older I got, the more interesting it became.”

From early on, she equated mathematics with fun. She only wishes more people would see it that way instead of being intimidated with the subject.

Mathematics is such a passion that she heads Math Circles, an outreach program for high school students. She coordinated the program on a volunteer basis and “begged for pizza money from the Faculty of Science” for five years until the Math Circles team was successful in applying for funding from the Imperial Oil Foundation. The gigantic cheque for $400,000 has a place of pride in her office in the Chase Building; it -allowed them to hire a paid coordinator and expand the program’s reach to communities throughout the province. Math Circles also continues to welcome high school students to campus every month for hands-on math experimentation.

“We’re looking for active participation from students,” says Ms. Siegel, who has visited all ends of the province with Math Circles, from Freeport to Neil’s Harbour. “We get them up and involved. We get them to be the graph, to demonstrate the order of the polynomial. The big thing is to get them doing something and to make it relevant.”

Alongside Math Circles, she’s been working away at her PhD for a few years now—her expertise is game theory—and teaching in the department. At the same time, she and her oceanographer husband Eric Siegel became parents. They have two children, Anneka, 5, and Dorian, 3.

It’s a busy, full life but wonderfully, delightfully fun. “It’s not really work when you’re having a good time,” she says, smiling. “How can you not have fun doing all this?”


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