Strengthening female participation in STEM activities

Strengthening female participation in STEM activities

Math contest that engages high school students in critical thinking and problem solving has strong appeal among girls

January 15, 2014

Philadelphia, PA--High school subjects that connect the curriculum to the real world are those that best engage female students, a Carnegie Mellon University study shows. With coursework in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) often lacking relevance to students' lives, it is unsurprising that females represent a meager 24 percent of the STEM workforce, according to a factsheet from the Executive Office of the President.

Students throughout the United States have taken interest in programs like Internet-based Moody's Mega Math (M3) Challenge for its hands-on approach. The real-world element of the applied math competition, which puts a genuine problem in the hands of students, has earned loyalty from female contenders who consistently make up about 35 percent of the total participation every year. In the scant 14 hours they are given to provide a solution, participants can discover the seemingly infinite ways that math can be used to propose the best recycling methods for U.S. cities or determine the best regions for high-speed rail. These were the tasks-at-hand for participants in recent years of the annual competition.

"When students can see the benefits of computational work being used in daily life, the traditional discrepancy of more male-dominated STEM fields may be better overcome. Curricula may not express how vital a strong STEM foundation can be, or the exciting applications that are possible, which is a potential shortcoming for attracting females to coursework and careers in these applied fields. Practical and hands on, the M3 Challenge engages students in a unique way and gets them excited about STEM," explains Project Director Michelle Montgomery. 

The M3 Challenge promotes a multitude of skills like writing, teamwork and cooperation, research, and critical thinking. Because of this, the Challenge has succeeded in attracting a pool of participants with diverse interests, backgrounds and identities. Students have the chance to see how coursework and careers in STEM areas are intertwined with other interests and proficiencies.

A respondent to a survey that followed last year's competition shares, "For someone who isn't pursuing a math career, but still takes AP Math courses, I was really pleased with the subject [of the Challenge problem]. It really helped destroy the façade that math is just numbers. Surprisingly enough, I came up with most of the concepts for my team! I was shocked by how easily we approached it and I will certainly be doing this next year."

Teachers may visit M3 any time before February 28 to register their teams of three to five students (up to two per school).

About The Sponsor

The Moody's Foundation, a charitable foundation established by Moody's Corporation, is committed to supporting education, in particular the study of mathematics, finance and economics. The Foundation also funds specific initiatives in the areas of global economic development, microfinance, civic, health and human services as well as arts and cultural programs. The Foundation supports programs located in select metropolitan areas in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere around the world.

Moody's is an essential component of the global capital markets, providing credit ratings, research, tools and analysis that contribute to transparent and integrated financial markets. Moody's Corporation (NYSE: MCO) is the parent company of Moody's Investors Service, which provides credit ratings and research covering debt instruments and securities, and Moody's Analytics, which offers leading-edge software, advisory services and research for credit and economic analysis and financial risk management. The Corporation, which reported revenue of $2.7 billion in 2012, employs approximately 7,000 people worldwide and maintains a presence in 29 countries. Further information is available at

About the organizer

The Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is an international society of over 14,000 individual members, including applied and computational mathematicians and computer scientists, as well as other scientists and engineers. Members from 85 countries are researchers, educators, students, and practitioners in industry, government, laboratories, and academia. The Society, which also includes nearly 500 academic and corporate institutional members, serves and advances the disciplines of applied mathematics and computational science by publishing a variety of books and prestigious peer-reviewed research journals, by conducting conferences, and by hosting activity groups in various areas of mathematics. SIAM provides many opportunities for students including regional sections and student chapters. Further information is available at

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