Math is Our Friend
Carlotta Daniels-Randolph | 8/1/2015, noon
Throughout my high school education experience I held a deep dislike and lack of interest in math and wanted to avoid it at all cost. To be clear, I do not mean arithmetic – the basic computations we use in daily adult living without giving it much thought such as adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing as wells as utilizing weights and measures for ordering everything from groceries to flooring materials. No, I mean mathematics, such as algebra, calculus and trigonometry. I was not alone then and certainly not today where it is not uncommon for adults to proclaim without shame their lack of ability, or interest in mathematics. There is a real, measurable phenomenon in America defined as math anxiety or math phobia where fear and anxiety are the response to solving math problems.
According to Stanford University Professor Vinod Menon, who co-authored a study on the neurodevelopmental basis of math anxiety, the part of the brain effected by math anxiety is the same part “that responds to fearful situations, such as seeing a spider or snake”.
This is a most unfortunate state of affairs for our nation. Studies show that individuals with a math phobia or anxiety perform poorly on exams and avoid taking high-level-math courses and therefore do not pursue math related career fields. They are also less likely to complete their college education.
In the current job market those who have a solid foundation in mathematics and science are positioned to secure employment in high wage occupations. According to the Salary Survey published spring 2015 by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, starting salaries for recent graduates with Bachelor’s degrees in engineering range from $51,877 to 90,012 with the average salary in the mid $60K range. Those recent grads with Bachelor’s degrees in Liberal Arts and Humanities were offered between $28,333 and $50,872, with the average salary in the mid $30K range.
This comparison is not intended to devalue the importance of other career choices and occupations. It is meant to illustrate that work related to technology and innovation that requires a foundation in mathematics and science, has a far greater monetary value in the job market. At the present moment there are many jobs such as manufacturing technologist, machinist and other skilled labor jobs that do not require a four-year college degree, and the starting salaries, according to labor market statistics range from $32,000 to $52,000. These jobs do require specialized training and can take between three months to two years to complete, depending upon the program. With specialized, relatively short-term, career-focused training, many individuals are able to out-earn some recent graduates of four-year college degree programs.
One of the unfortunate realities is that in addition to the lack of knowledge of and appreciation for these skilled labor opportunities, it is also necessary to have a firm grounding in math to do well in these areas. Does a machinist need the same level and knowledge of math as a mechanical engineer? No, however, understanding math concepts that help us to problem solve are essential.