“You don’t seem like a math major” – a reaction that I ALWAYS get when I tell people that I am one. That is, besides the typical “gosh, math is hard – that was my worst subject!” Yes, math is a super hard subject, and I never envisioned myself choosing math as my major, especially if I were to look back at my high school years. However, choosing a major is definitely an extremely challenging decision to make and it wasn’t any different for myself. Every person, no matter their gender, has their own unique experience into deciding on their own college major and/or career trajectory. Since sharing other women’s stories on why they chose their majors, I figured that I would share my own story, as it is was a journey in itself to get to where I am today and where I plan to go career-wise moving forward.
My High School Years
Once upon a time, there was a fifteen year old Katie anxiously awaiting for her first class of the first day of her Sophomore year of high school to start. Her first class was none other than Fashion Marketing – the class that she was most excited for that year. In fact, that class was the one class that I would hope would help define my career path, as I have always LOVED fashion. That same week that classes started, my mother and I traveled to New York City during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week where we got to see the magic before our eyes of New York Fashion Week. I even got to walk the runway and fulfill my dream of doing so at Zappo’s popup runway booth right by Lincoln Center! In the classroom, as my Sophomore year progressed in Fashion Marketing, I became even more passionate about the fashion industry. I got to design my own garment out of a trash bag and tote bag out of Target shopping bags which were both super fun and also take a trip with other Fashion Marketing students all across my school district to Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, Virginia to learn more about their fashion program and alumni’s career paths from their Fashion programs. We also watched a documentary on Vogue magazine’s iconic Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour as well as The Devil Wears Prada, which is written by one of Wintour’s former assistant’s. My experiences in that course made me ecstatic to start my own career in fashion someday.
The summer before my Junior year of high school, I started to tour colleges. Since I was very optimistic about starting a career in fashion, my mom took me to many colleges with a fashion program. At one of the schools, we were lucky enough to get to meet with a professor in their Fashion Department. While meeting with the professor, she shared with us some of the jobs that alumni of their Fashion Merchandising program were getting. Although those jobs may have been a perfect fit for someone else, I knew in that moment that they were not for me. Leaving that meeting, I felt very disappointed as I had always dreamed of working in the fashion industry – it appeared so glamorous so fun. Though I knew this new reality, I did not want to give up my dreams of working in fashion, so I became in denial with what I had just faced.
Flash-forward to the Fall of my Junior year of high school, and I had decided to tour two schools in New York to check out their fashion programs. Going to school in New York City was then nothing but a dream that I wanted to come true for myself. I had grown up watching movies that took place in New York City, such as Eloise at the Plaza and of course Sex In the City. The city looked nothing short of glamorous and what I thought at the time was the most perfect place for me to attend college. When I toured both of the schools, I fell in love with one of them outside of the city, while I did not like to one at all inside of Manhattan. I was most definitely sad that I did not like the school that I toured in Manhattan, but it was also another tall-telling sign that fashion may not have been the degree for me.
As my Junior year of high school progressed, I began to question whether or not I would study fashion. Moreover, I started to think about studying Textiles Management or Cosmetic Chemistry, even though I had 0% interest in chemistry or any sciences for that matter. I also thought about Event Planning for sometime too. However, it was not until my mother mentioned Data Analytics and Statistics to me at the end of my Junior year that I finally realized I may have found a good career fit for me. As I finished out high school, I still was not so sure as to what I wanted to study but I thought I would give Math and/or Statistics a shot!
Early College Years
Let’s take it back a minute to the summer before my Freshmen year of college. That summer, I went on a graduation trip with my mother to Sofia, Bulgaria for a special education conference with her and her colleagues. One of her colleagues’ husbands came along with us to Bulgaria and he was a Computer Science major. He talked so highly of his job and career path using analytics through studying Computer Science. His excitement towards his college major made me want to pursue a degree in Computer Science. On the contrary, I had NEVER tried programming before my first class my Spring semester of my Freshmen year of college and let’s just say it did not come easy to me. That being said, I decided not to major in Computer Science and look towards something else.
When I was struggling in my first-ever Programming course, I was telling some of my friends and classmates about how I was trying to decide on a different major. Most of them told me that they all saw me as a Fashion major. At the same time, my mom told me to look into Meredith’s Fashion program, as I knew that they had one and it was good too. Following those around me’s suggestions, I looked into Meredith’s Fashion Merchandising Program and registered for a few fashion courses for my Sophomore year. At the same time, I decided to continue to pursue a minor in Math, since I knew I could get the credits to do so and it would look good to have a STEM minor, especially when standing out in the fashion industry. I finally felt as if I was on a career path that was my own, despite having a reeking gut feeling that fashion STILL wasn’t right for me.
The Fall semester of my Sophomore year, I was really excited to finally be in my first-ever fashion classes since high school. The first few days of classes went great until I started to realize that the program was geared towards gearing students up for a career path that just was not for me. In that moment, I FINALLY knew then and there that fashion was not for me. It was definitely a hard pill to swallow but an important one.
Fortunately, at the same time, I was continuing to take Math courses to progress in a Math degree. Let’s just say that I am OH SO THANKFUL that I continued to take them. While I definitely did not enjoy the Math classes that I took that semester and it made me really contemplate my major after that Fall semester, I am really glad that I stuck with it. As the Spring semester approached, I debated about declaring a Marketing or Event Planning degree and finishing out my minor in Math. I met with professors from the Business Department as well as my now-advisor in the Math and Computer Science Department to aide me in my *major* decision.
At the same time that I was stressing over my major, I did not feel as if I had the potential to be a Math major or even fit in with my department. Even though I did enjoy the girls in my department and we all really cared and still care very much for one another, I did not know or feel as if I fit in. I was really into fashion and planning events and going out and being social while most of them most definitely did not have all of those interests to my extent. My differing persona made me wonder if I would fit in in a different program with people that I felt as if I identified with more.
Besides feeling as if I did not have a place in my department, I also felt that I lacked potential in my degree. I’m going to put it out there: Math is HARD for a lot of people, including Math majors! My Math classes definitely were not easy, and I knew that it came more naturally to some of my classmates more than myself, which made me worry that I was not good enough or have any potential in my program. At first, I did not want to work hard in a subject that did not come as easy to me like it did to others, especially feeling as if I did not belong amongst my classmates. However, I decided to keep trying and to help my classmates out along the way. I made study guides and planned study sessions with some of them, and let’s just say that it not only helped me feel connected and if I had potential in my program but it also helped my classmates feel the same way. I also realized that I was not the only one who did not have their coursework come easy to me, which made me feel real reassured.
Declaring My Major
One of the really tell-tale moments for me when choosing my major is when one of my friends Jess told a staff member in the Career Center about how analytical my thinking is. It made me realize that I did have assets beyond creating study guides and hosting study sessions. Jess also helped me realize in that moment that I DO and DID have potential in my major and that I BELONGED in my department. Another moment for me is when I told my friend Ava that I was going to stick with my major in Math after debating for months and her response was an astounding “GOOD!”. After declaring my Math major, my friend Sydney and I cried happy tears as we celebrated. But, most importantly, Jess said to me “you belong here.” That is when I knew that I had found the right program and major for me.
Since declaring my major in Math, my friends in my department and I took some pictures to celebrate with one of our favorite hashtags: #MeredithMath. So many of my friends in my department showed up, which made me realize that I DID BELONG and that I DO have an excellent department full of incredible, strong, and empowering women. Their ongoing support has led me to take on the role as the Canaday Math and Computer Science Club’s President for my upcoming Senior year. My department has been growing both in diversity and in community. They say that empowered women empower one another, and indeed, they do!
XOXO – Katie <3