Sarah Negri’s Winning Essays for HARO’s 2016 Women in STEM Scholarship

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Sarah Negri is studying Math and Great Books at Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is considering a career as an actuary.

1. Where did your interest in your discipline/field originate? 

For as far back as I can remember, I have always loved math. Working with numbers came easily to me, and it was also enjoyable because I looked at every problem as a puzzle to be solved, a challenge to be conquered. Even outside of my studies in math, I was into Sudoku and other number puzzles, simply because I loved figuring out how the numbers fit together and formed patterns. The logic and rationality of math really appealed to my left-sided brain even as a child.

In high school especially, though, my interest in math became more focused. In my junior year I began correcting homework papers for a local homeschool math tutor, and that not only allowed me to go deeper into my math studies (because you really have to be grounded in knowledge of mathematics to correct homework) but also sparked my consideration of whether I wanted to pursue math as a career. My exposure to the subject was heightened as I began tutoring math students privately, and I never got tired of working the problems with them. Explaining the concepts to them was not only rewarding, but it also showed me how much I liked helping others understand my favorite subject.

When it came time to decide what I wanted to study, it seemed like an obvious choice to me. I really loved math and wanted to work with numbers on a daily basis. I continued working with math through correcting and tutoring until I entered college and declared math as my major. Math continues to be my passion and my preferred field of study.

2. How did your homeschooling impact your study of science, technology, math, and/or engineering? 

I would say that the three main benefits that my homeschooling experience gave me with regard to my math studies were formation, freedom and faith in my abilities. First of all, homeschooling formed me as a person and as a student. I gained discipline through studying on my own and with my siblings, and I learned how to get the most out of the material and really try to understand everything. My parents instilled good values and study habits into me, and taught me to work hard at everything I do, which has been invaluable to my experience in the math field. Homeschooling gave me the time, attention and discipline I needed to truly be grounded in not just math but in all my studies.

Because of the structure of my schooling environment, I had a great deal of freedom in my math studies as well. Since I didn’t have to keep up with a class, I was able to take the time to grasp concepts fully, and if I didn’t understand something, the flexibility of homeschooling allowed me to slow down and really master the concept. I was also able to move on if I grasped the material quickly, instead of becoming bored if a class was going too slowly. This flexibility was especially relevant in high school, when I was able to dip into many different math textbooks and curricula to gain exposure to different methods and outlooks on solving problems. I had the freedom to go through Geometry twice, master Algebra using three different textbooks, and still take Pre-Calculus before I graduated. This greatly contributed to my formation in math, and is, to me, an invaluable benefit of my homeschooling experience.

Finally, homeschooling gave me faith in my own abilities. I learned most of the math I know on my own, studying the concepts and working the problems by myself. I learned what worked for me and what didn’t, and grew in confidence as I grew in knowledge. Self-studying requires self-discipline, but it is very rewarding to be able to say that I, not just my parents or tutors, was an integral instigator to my mastery of the material. Homeschooling gave me the environment, the impetus and the encouragement to make the most of the abilities I was given.

3. Describe your experience being a female in your field, from when you first showed interest until now

As a female with an interest in math from a young age, I can honestly say that my experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I have never been told “No.” My parents were the first to encourage me in my studies. I remember a letter my dad wrote to me in elementary school urging me to “really understand what you’re learning; don’t just focus on getting the right answer.” Particularly relevant to math, his advice was applicable all through high school and up to my present college studies. My mom was also extremely supportive of my love for math; she worked with me individually, helping me find methods of understanding concepts that catered to my learning style, and encouraged me when I began work as a math tutor’s assistant. My parents saw where my interests were and not only allowed me but aided me to move in their direction.

The professor for whom I corrected papers was also highly encouraging to me when I expressed interest in math as a possible career. Speaking as someone with a master’s degree in engineering, she shared with me what to expect from higher-level math studies and asserted that I would excel in the field. My peers as well, though most expressed their distaste at my chosen course of study (math isn’t the most beloved subject in the world) respected me for my decision and never made fun of me for it. Finally, as I entered my college years, I have never been told that “girls can’t do math” or heard any negative comment of that kind. On the contrary, I have received nothing but support in my decision to pursue math, and this encouragement has reinforced my dedication to my studies and my desire to do well. The sky’s the limit!


Author: The HARO Team